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WHO’s Women’s Health Commission for Africa Launched

Distinguished panel of commissioners to undertake comprehensive review and make recommendations for action

In a major new initiative The World Health Organisation, on 14th April 2010, launched an urgent new enquiry into the reasons for the current crisis in women's health in Africa and into the action priorities necessary to address the key issues rapidly.

The President of Liberia, Her Excellency Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf greeting the Commissioners

Introducing the Commision at the official launching ceremony in Monrovia, Liberia, Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, The WHO Regional Director for Africa, reminded the distinguished audience that the Millennium Development Goal 5 called for effective action to reduce levels of maternal mortality and explained that this would be one of the principal aims of the Commission. But Dr Sambo, who was resposible for organising this new initiative, also pointed out that there was a range of other important issues relating to women's health that also needed urgent consideration. He hoped that the outcome of the Commission's work would be specific recommendations that would result in measureable benefits and improvements.

The President of Liberia, Her Excellency Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, together with other special and distinguished guests at the opening of the conference

The Launch Ceremony was held at the Monrovia City Hall and was presided over by the President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who had graciously agreed to act as Honorary President of the Women's Health Commission. She welcomed the establishment of the Commission and personally thanked each of the distinguished Commissioners for agreeing to take part in such an important undertaking. She looked forward to the Commission's Report and to the positive impact on women's health that it might achieve.

Guests arriving at Monrovia City Hall for the launch

Other important speakers at the Launch Ceremony included Dr Walter T Gwenigiale, Liberian Misiater of Health and Social Welfare, Hon. Varbah K. Gayflor, Liberian Mister for Gender and Devlopment, Mrs Margrethe Loj, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Dr Richard Sezibera, Minister of Health, Rwanda and Chairman of the WHO Regional Committee 59, Ambassador Marion D Cassell and Dr Bernice T. Dahn, Chief Medical Officer of Liberia. The benediction was given by Rev. Jarvis Witherspoon, Religious Adviser to the President.

The launch was celebrated with a fine display of traditional dancing and music

The Commission is due to complete its work by the autumn and its report will be published in full before the end of the year.

Detailed Information about the Commission for Women’s Health in Africa – and its Objectives

Membership and Composition

  • The Commission has 17 members
  • Constituted by High Level political leaders; opinion leaders; experts in reproductive and women’s health; representatives from national and international institutions including civil society
  • The President of Liberia, Her Mrs Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf accepted to serve as the Distinguished Honorary President of the Commission


  • Advise the Regional Director on actions to be taken by Member States to improve women’s health
  • Advocates for resources for the improvement of women’s health

Terms of Reference

  • Conduct a systematic review of available evidences for improved women’s health, particularly the major impediments in translating these evidences into policy and action at country level and package the identified information for improved advocacy and resource mobilization
  • Ensure the availability of newly generated evidence is packaged to enhance its access and use by policy and decision maker, including for improved advocacy and resource mobilization
  • Advocate for policies, programmes and practices that would improve women’s health
  • Advocate for increased investment in women’s health
  • Galvanize actions of member states and regional bodies for improvement of women’s health
  • Advocate for placing women’s health issues high on the political agenda of member states and regional bodies
  • Produce a report with key recommendations on the work of the Commission at the end of proposed duration of the Commission

Membership of the Commission

Her Excellency Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
President of Liberia

Dr Pascual Mocumbi
Goodwill Ambassador of Maternal Health for AFRO, Mozambique

Hon Theo-Ben Guirab
President of the Inter Parliamentarians Union, Namibia

Adv Bience Gawanas
Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union

Dr Abel Bicaba
Independent Consultant, Burkina Faso

Ms Afoussatou Diarra
Supreme High Court Judge, Mali

Professor Christopher B-Lynch
Milton Keynes Foundation Trust Hospital, UK

Professor Germano Mwabu
University of Nairobi, Kenya

Professor Evlo Kodjo
University of Lome, Togo

Dr Sylvia Deganus
Ministry of Health, Ghana

Dr Stephen Munjanja
Senior Lecturer, University of Zimbabwe

Professor Sheik Ibrahim Niang
Institute of Sciences and Environment, Cheik Anta Diop University of Dakar, Senegal

Professor Pius Okong
Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

Dr Soori E S NNko
National Medical Research Institute, Tanzania

Professor Robert Leke
Independent Consultant, Cameroon

Dr Anna Maria Van-Dunem
Ministry of Education, Angola