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Women Medics Pitch for Effective Role in Decision Making on Health Issues

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By Justus Wanzala

NAIROBI (IDN) – Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is crucial  in attainment of not only health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) but also all SDGs.

Participants in the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) Regional Conference 2018, that was held in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, from November 11-15, noted that achieving UHC can aid in tackling the growing disease burden and extreme poverty in Afrcan countries and other poor nations. 

Christine Sadia, President of Kenya Medical Women’s Association (KMWA)  said governments, policy makers, donors and development partners should not waver in supporting women’s health issues with the aim of alleviating problems that face women and girls across the globe.

“The evolving socio-economic, political, environmental and demographic contexts for women’s health needs require urgent attention with a view to ensuring that girls and women not only survive, but thrive, and that these benefits are transferred to the next generation,” she elaborated.

The conference with the theme Accelerating Women’s Health Agenda: Priorities and Opportunities through UN SDGs and AU Agenda 2063 was hosted by KMWA.

It took place at a time when women’s health issues are being recognised as important in attainment of sustainable development goals, it aimed at harmonising voices of women in medicine in advocating and identifying solutions to women’s health agenda through SDGs.

Participants  included women in medicine, academicians, industry experts, policy makers, science and global health actors keen to share ideas on how to fast-track the SDGs and advancements in health for women, children and adolescents. 

They explored ways in wich countries are addressing the issue of UHC to tackle the growing disease burden and extreme poverty.

Florene Maguyu a founder member of KMWA said there have been efforts to address women medical issues but they need to be accelerated. “We are aware and cognisant of issues affecting women’s health and that to achieve SGDs women’s health issues must be addressed and concerted efforts taken at regional, national and local levels,”, she said.

Healthy nations, she said, can tackle poverty. “When the health of half of a nation is ignored, the nation will be unhealthy and underdeveloped. We need to address the health of all to attain the human development that we aspire,” she added.

Ademola Olajide, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Kenya said, overall SDGs are about fighting poverty and protecting the enviroment. People’s health, he stressed, is a key ingredient for a country’s prosperity. “The state of women’s health can depict how far we have progressed as a society. Whatever we do if we do not pay adequate attention to women’s health, we undermine attainment of SDGs,” he explained.

He added that medical professionals are involved in provision of medical services but decisions and actions that affect women’s health are made by politicians, an aspect that renders them voiceless.

Bettina Pfleiderer, MWIA president concured with Ademola noting that although the number of women in medical professions is increasing, women still need a stronng voice so that they can make decisions on health issues. “Women are not around the table in making health decisions. We need to be heard, the reason we need a platform,” she said.

Ambasador Macharia Kamau, Principal Secretary, Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and former Kenya’s Representative to the United Nations in a speech read by John Tipis who is incharge of Americas at the ministry said that African Union’s 2063 Vision cannot be achieved if women and girl’s health lags behind.

Delegates were also concerned with the sharp rise in the cases of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). “It is imperative to recognise that women’s health issues goes beyond reproductive health. Non communicable diseases are equally on the rise among women. “We must avoid silo mentality and compartmentalised approachh to women issues,” said Macharia, who is also a former President of the UNICEF Executive Board.

Beth Mugo, a Kenyan senator and former minister of health said tackling NCDs which are claiming lives of many people is a heavy burden to poor nations. “According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) NCDs claims lives of millions of people with cancer being a leading cause of death,” she said.

 Mugo, a breast cancer survivor called on women to be involved in awareness creation, for early detection and treatment of diseases like cancer. 

She said that due to lack of money, medical institutions in developing countries are under-equipped and under-staffed. “We must bear in our minds that much won’t be achieved if governments won’t adequately fund the health sector,” she said and added that MWIA can play a critical role through national chapters to lobby governments to increase health budgets.

Joyce Banda, former president of the Republic of Malawi (2012-2014), who was a keynote speaker, said improvements in maternal, newborn and child health are critical to overall development of nations. She added that research and general experience have indicated remarkable results of tangible returns on investment in maternal health.

She however decried the current state of affairs as far as maternal health is concerned. “The Millennium Development Goals (the forerunner of SDGs) set the global figure for reducing maternal death to 115/100,000 but we failed to achieve this and in turn failed the women of Africa,” she declared.

Moreover, she said every day, 830 women die from preventable causes giving birth around the world. “In the United States, only 26 out of 100,000 mothers die giving life but in Kenya its 510 while in Malawi, when I became President in 2012, the figure was at 675 out of 100,000 mothers,” she revealed.

To improve access to medical services by women and especially maternal health ones in Sub Saharan Africa, Banda recommended presence of strong political goodwill and massive sensitisation campaigns on family planning. Her view was that giving birth to unlimited number of births contributes to maternal deaths and intensification of training of health personnel for promotion of maternal health.

She recommended banning of harmful traditions that undermine women’s health, and called for enhanced women participation in leadership, tackling poverty and increasing health budgets.

Banda called for recognition of the interconnectedness of interventions in health, education, and income and population growth in search of new ways to implement sustainable development programs.

“The woman who wants to ensure that her agricultural work provides enough food so that she can feed her family, and also provide the much needed, wants her children to receive medical care, go to school that has trained teachers and access safe hospitals adequately staffed by doctors,” she opined.

Mugo lamented that developing countries suffer brain drain in the health sector; an aspect that undermines service delivery and deprives them of experts who can undertake research to develop cures for diseases.

“I call on MWIA officials to ask their  members abroad to support research initiatives for cures of various diseases that are affordable,” she said. She also emphasised the need for enhanced public private partnerships in Africa and other poor regions to enhance health services delivery. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 November 2018]

Photo: Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, addressing the conference. Credit: Justus Wanzala | IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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