Sandra E. Roelofs, the First Lady of Georgia and the wife of President Mikheil Saakashvili, will be at Women Deliver 2010. Ms. Roelofs is a noted advocate for women and girls and founded the charity foundation, SOCO which is active in advancing reproductive health and neonatal care. We asked Ms. Roelofs to speak about her the needs of girls and women in her country, and what she hopes to get from attending Women Deliver.
1. What are the biggest challenges girls and women face in your country?
They are hoping for peace, good health, good education and employment for themselves, their husbands and children. Family planning is a very pressing issue in Georgia. Young and middle-aged women are struggling with too high abortion rates and too low awareness and confidence in anti-conception methods. Adolescents need free and anonymous professional counselling on a community level, preferably by peers. Other challenges are better detection, referral and management of at-risk pregnancies, improvement of early child development issues like pre-school enrollment, early detection of mental and physical disorders and primary health care strengthening. Also prenatal and neonatal care can be improved by extending the screening of rare diseases and birth defects. Breast and cervical cancer screening has started successfully over the past two years but needs to become accessible for all women in all regions. Last but not least infertility in Georgian is affecting 15% of couples and is an underestimated problem in Georgia.
2. How are you working to improve the lives of girls and women in your country?
I am targeting maternal and infant mortality rates and working to reduce them by focusing both on a policy level through my National Reproductive Health Council under the Georgian Ministry of Health and on a practical level by assisting multi-children families, pregnant women and children under 5 years of age. I work through my humanitarian foundation, SOCO, which has a mobile medical team traveling to the more isolated regions of Georgia and offering free medical consultation. We also train health workers for better pregnancy diagnostics, disseminate information on healthy life styles and safe motherhood, and assist young children with health problems (especially rare diseases). Tackling health and social problems is of course synonymous to fighting extreme poverty, the first Millennium Development Goal. I also focus specifically on infectious diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS by chairing the Global Fund’s CCM Board.
3. What do you hope to learn and do or take away from Women Deliver 2010?
Every conference is an ideal place for networking, having the chance to represent your country and discuss its problems and share success stories. At the same time one is learning how issues are dealt with in other countries, sometimes even on a regional level. For me every conference means finding new friends and people interested in the same issues, in this case reproductive health and in particular, safe motherhood. There is something that binds all participants -- we want to get good health systems, social safety nets and good projects in place to maximally assist our women and families to grow and live in good health and wealth. In order to reach this common and very noble goal we all come up with our best practices and best ideas, exchange them in the form of a conference, chat in the corridors, during the luncheons and dinners and exchange contact addresses to make sure we don¹t lose contact with all these inspiring persons.