Dinner in Honor of the First Lady of Congo-Brazzaville
Ambassador Killion's Remarks at his Dinner Honoring Madame Antoinette Sassou-Nguesso, First Lady of Congo-Brazzaville
On June 20, 2011, Ambassador and Mrs. Killion hosted a special dinner in honor of Antoinette Sassou-Nguesso, First Lady of Congo-Brazzaville and activist for health issues and peace in Africa. Madame Sassou-Nguesso was the honorary chair of a conference organized by the Congolese delegation on sickle cell anemia. The dinner was also attended by Dr. Althea Grant from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, who was a panelist at the sickle cell conference, and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker.
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
Madame Antoinette Sassou-Nguesso,
Fellow ambassadors, distinguished guests, dear friends:
It gives Kristin and me great honor to welcome the First Lady of Congo-Brazzaville to our home tonight. Madame Sassou-Nguesso has been a tireless champion for a better life and future for her country. As the founder of the African Network of Women Peace Negotiators, a dedicated crusader in the fight to increase HIV testing and a champion for better maternal and pediatric health care, the First Lady has worked hard to keep critical issues on the forefront of not just Congo-Brazzaville's radar, but the world's also. We are so delighted that you could be here. We are also thrilled to have with us a special guest who has traveled from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Dr. Althea Grant. Dr. Grant is Chief of the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Blood Disorders. She is interested in improving our understanding of genetic and environmental risk factors for blood disorders.
This week at UNESCO features worldwide conferences on cultural heritage, the future of our planet's oceans, the induction of a famous Goodwill Ambassador...anyone at UNESCO will probably tell you it's just an average week. But the Congolese delegation has put together a conference on a topic that is actually quite personal to me, and I wanted to say a few words on its importance. It reflects so well on the efforts of the First Lady to ensure a better future for her fellow citizens. I'm speaking about this week's conference on sickle cell anemia.
Many of you may not know that my father was a scientific researcher and sickle cell anemia was his area of focus. It's actually a serious issue in the United States also. Over 75,000 Americans currently suffer from sickle cell anemia, and an additional 2 million - 1 in 12 African Americans - have sickle cell trait, meaning they carry the gene for this disease. Not only is sickle cell anemia a serious condition in itself, but it also leads to a much higher risk of stroke, reduced immunity and infection-fighting ability, and impaired blood circulation. Every infant born in the United States is required to be screened for sickle cell anemia, which has helped those who need treatment get it right away.
I really applaud the leadership and efforts that Ambassador Adoua and his delegation have shown to raise awareness of this issue and how, in particular, it remains a critical issue in Africa. Improving the quality and availability of healthcare in African countries is a top priority for the United States also. Through UNESCO, other UN agencies, the World Health Organization and our efforts through USAID, we have been working side by side with African leaders, our fellow member states and NGOs to help make routine healthcare needs like screenings and vaccinations more accessible. We are also working closely with UNESCO to support programs improving the quality of drinking water - a prime cause of the spread of easily preventable diseases like cholera - and improve education. Studies have proven over and over again that improved literacy rates lead to reduced mortality rates. This is important work and we are proud to collaborate with leaders and friends like Madame Sassou-Nguesso, the Director General, Dr. Grant and Ambassador Adoua and fight together for a better future.
It is now my pleasure to introduce a remarkable woman, a leader of her country and a fighter. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Madame Antoinette Sassou-Nguesso!