Conferral of the 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice Award upon Dr. Marina A. Njelekela
Remarks by Ambassador Alfonso E. Lenhardt (as prepared) - Venue: U.S. Embassy - January 27, 2010
Honorable invited guests;
Distinguished previous recipients of the Drum Major for Justice Award;
Representatives of the Medical Profession;
Mabibi na Mabwana;
I warmly welcome each of you to the U.S. Embassy today, for this, one of the U.S. Mission’s most important annual celebrations. Today we honor the life, and the legacy, of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A leader of America’s Civil Rights movement, Dr. King called for justice and equality for all Americans--regardless of their skin color, regardless of their financial means, regardless of their gender, regardless of where they lived.
Americans honor Dr. King every year, during the month of his birth. We reflect on his vision, his ideals, and his words, which are preserved for us in the many speeches and sermons he left behind.
Dr. King worked patiently, and with a steady resolve, to achieve his goals. And although he lost his life during the movement, I believe that with the election of President Barack Obama, Dr. King’s vision for true equality is as close as ever to being achieved.
In Tanzania today, too, we see a struggle for equality and a movement to make equal opportunity a reality for all Tanzanians.
Because, unfortunately, if you are female, if you are poor, if you are uneducated, and if you live outside a city, then quality health care may be beyond your reach.
If you are a poor woman with no education in Tanzania, you are more likely to die in childbirth. Poor, uneducated women generally have twice as many children as wealthier, more educated women.
Poor women who have not been blessed with schooling are less likely to have routine health screenings, and are more likely to die of a preventable or treatable disease.
Our partners and friends in the Government, especially at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, are working hard to address this inequity, as are many international and Tanzanian partners, both in the public and private sector. The Government of Tanzania, to the highest level, has sought out ways to improve maternal health in partnership in cooperation with my government and others.
As Dr. King said, “Almost always, the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better.” I certainly believe that to be true. And in the case of Dr. Marina Njelekela, I have seen that it is true.
Dr. Njelekela knew the statistics. She knew that rural women were dying of preventable diseases. She knew that poor women did not have access to routine breast cancer screenings or cervical exams. She knew that there are too many victims of gender violence. And she did something about it.
As the third Chairperson of the Medical Women Association of Tanzania, Dr. Njelekela has invigorated the medical community, and galvanized women doctors and medical professionals to fight these preventable female cancers. All of you here today are a testament to her work.
The National Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign she spearheaded brought this treatable disease to the nation’s consciousness. The campaign screened tens of thousands of women, and has already diagnosed more than 150, many of whom are now undergoing treatment. Without her campaign’s intervention, many of these cancers would have gone undiagnosed and untreated.
Similarly, Dr. Njelekela continues to advocate for cervical cancer diagnoses and treatment. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for Tanzanian women. Screening and timely treatment saves countless lives.
How can we even begin to measure the impact of this work? The current statistics show that 6 of every 1000 Tanzanian mothers die in childbirth. Each of us can imagine the effect losing a mother will have on a family and a community.
And so saving mothers, sisters, and grandmothers is truly preserving the fabric of the community. When the impact of saving just one mother’s life that is too great to fathom, we begin to recognize the incredible importance of improving maternal health for all Tanzanian women.
A member of the “creative, dedicated, minority” that Dr. King so admired, Dr. Njelekela has, indeed made Tanzania a better place.
In celebrating the birthday of Dr. King last week, President Barack Obama reminded us that Dr. King, “remained strategically focused on gaining ground -- his eyes on the prize constantly -- understanding that change would not be easy, understanding that change wouldn't come overnight, understanding that there would be setbacks and false starts along the way.”
Tanzania achieving its Vision 2025 requires a team effort. The Tanzanian Government, together with donor partners, international and local NGOs and citizens all play a part in reducing maternal and child mortality.
The American people have focused our assistance efforts in maternal health on the continuum of care, from family planning and pre-natal care to safe child delivery, and emergency newborn care. We are supporting programs for cervical cancer screening and treatment for HIV-positive women, and for well-baby care.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress named Tanzania a “maternal and child health priority country,” and allocated additional funds to work on these issues. We launched a national program entitled “MAISHA” with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to address the major causes of maternal and infant mortality. Through training and improved child delivery services in every district of Tanzania, we are working together not only with the Government, but to complement the efforts of organizations like MEWATA.
I know that the media, especially ITV, played an important role in the National Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, and that they continue to run breast cancer self-exam advertisements every day. This is exactly the kind of public and private sector effort, with all partners working shoulder to shoulder, that will truly improve child and maternal health in Tanzania.
The final quote from Dr. King I will leave you with is this: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” I want to thank the Government of Tanzania, the medical community, and our NGO and international partners for endeavoring to improve health for all Tanzanians with the excellence Dr. King celebrated.
But I must, again, highlight the work of Dr. Njelekela. The excellence in her work is clear. That she has dedicated her professional and much of her personal life to uplifting humanity is clear. And that her work is imbued with dignity and importance is abundantly clear.
I thank her, sincerely. And I recognize again, the work she and MEWATA are doing to defend the dignity and value of all Tanzanians.
And as President Obama said last week, “May the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King continue to inspire us and ennoble our world and all who inhabit it.”
Thank you very much for coming.
Statement at Conferral of Drum Major for Justice Award
Dr. Marina Njelekela, it is my honor to present to you the 2010 Dr. Martin Luther King Drum Major for Justice Award for your successful efforts to advance equality in health care for all Tanzanians.
Your focus on improving access to health care makes you a leader in the fight for women’s equality.
The people of the United States of America will continue to shine a light of support on your quest for a healthy Tanzanian population accessing affordable and sustainable health services.