Women & Gender

Dr. Belkis Giorgis, MSH's Gender Expert 

One hundred years ago on March 8, a handful of countries celebrated the first International Women’s Day. Today it is celebrated around the world as an opportunity to look back on women’s accomplishments and look forward to the realization of their full economic, political, and social rights. The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2011 is centered on women’s access to education, technology, and decent work.

For 40 years, MSH has promoted equal access to health care for women by strengthening health systems and building the capacity of women as leaders and managers, technical experts, clinicians, and community health workers. We interviewed Dr. Belkis Giorgis, our NGO Capacity Building/Gender Advisor in Ethiopia about women and development.

Why is International Women’s Day important?

For 40 years, MSH has promoted equal access to health care for women by strengthening health systems and building the capacity of women as leaders and managers, technical experts, clinicians, and community health workers. Management Sciences for Health celebrates International Women's Day, March 8, 2011. Meet the women who inspire us.

The Global Health Initiative (GHI) and its approach of integrating health programs with HIV & AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, maternal, newborn, and child health, nutrition, and family planning and reproductive health is in line with the current approaches and health priorities of the Government of Malawi.

Malawi, with a population of slightly over 13 million people, has 83% of its people living in the rural hard to reach, underserved areas. The biggest health challenge facing the country is access to basic health services by the rural population. The problem of access to health services is multifaceted. For instance, family planning services are mostly facility-based, contributing to a low Contraceptive Prevalence Rate of 28% and high unmet family planning need of 28% (Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2004).

However, there is also a critical shortage of trained health service providers and availability of contraceptives is a logistical nightmare in Malawi. Making a routine mix of all contraceptives accessible to women of reproductive age regularly in rural communities can avert unwanted pregnancies and maternal deaths, and reduce high total fertility rate and infant mortality rate. Rural people walk long distances to seek health services, sometimes only to return without a service due to shortage of health personnel and stock-out of supplies.

Women Nurses at Results Presentation in Aswan, Egypt

In Aswan, Egypt’s sunniest southern city located about one and a half hours by plane from Cairo, the Nile is at its most striking. Tropical plants grow along the edges of the flowing river, and the amber desert and granite rocks surround orchards of palm trees.

I was honored to be present in Aswan during one of Management Sciences for Health’s most important events; the results presentation of the Leadership Development Program (LDP), funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Improving the Performance of Nurses in Upper Egypt (IPN) project in the Aswan governorate.

Kitchen Garden Produce & Afghan Boy

The carefully irrigated and shaded kitchen garden provided welcome splashes of different shades of green against the surrounding dry brown soil and rocks. We congratulated Shukria, a community health worker (CHW), on the lush vegetables and ripening fruits as we entered her home.

Shukria explained that the gardens that she and other women were growing started with the community-based growth monitoring program through the Family Health Action Groups. The growth monitoring is successfully identifying children under two who were not gaining enough weight or were undernourished. She and other mothers spent time counseling the mothers of the identified underweight children.

Halida Akhter receiving the United Nations Population Award in 2006.

Bangladesh, which is situated in a resource poor setting with a population of over 150 million, faces the major health challenge of a high maternal mortality rate. In the 1970s, the maternal mortality rate was 700 deaths per 100,000, and now it is still at 320 per 100,000. Although Bangladesh has made progress in reducing its infant mortality, much progress needs to be made to reach the Millennium Development Goals for maternal mortality. Bangladesh will need more than five years to achieve the goals. The Global Health Initiative (GHI) will help address the major health challenges women face in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has successful models of collaboration and public-private partnerships to share with other countries.

There have been a collection of high-profile and well attended mobile health (mHealth) “summits” held around the world in the past few years, including last month’s second annual mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. (headlined by Bill Gates and Ted Turner), but the really interesting conversations are happening on the African continent. While large providers in the “developed world” are talking about the need for business plans and analysis, the debate in Kenya and Nigeria and Ghana is on how country-based leadership can scale up proven programs, develop sustainability, and provide practical and integrated models for cooperation between the government, mobile service providers, the medical community and the private sector.

Blog post also appeared on Global Health Magazine.

PEPFAR Fellow in the field

As the country with the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, outranked only by India, Nigeria loses one in every 18 women during child-birth. The country also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, one of the lowest life expectancy rates---estimated at 47 years---and the second largest population of people living with HIV & AIDS, with only 30% of people eligible for anti-retroviral treatment able to access these life-saving drugs.

A team of experts from WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, and World Bank recently published a report on maternal mortality entitled “Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2008" (PDF).

The document reports some fantastic news about a public health indicator that has until recently refused to budge. That indicator is the maternal mortality ratio, the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The improvement between 1990 and 2008 is significant and promising.

The part of the report that received much less coverage relates to HIV and its strong, adverse effect on maternal mortality. The authors estimate that in 2008 there were 42,000 deaths due to HIV & AIDS among pregnant women and approximately half of those were maternal deaths. In absence of HIV we would have had 337,000 maternal deaths in 2008 instead of 358,000.

This blog was originally posted on Global Health Council’s Blog 4 Global Health. This is a guest blog written by Aaron Emmel, government affairs officer at PATH, one of the sponsors of the event.

Almost 80 people packed the Global Health Council’s conference room last week, with 63 more listening in online, to learn about new initiatives to strengthen maternal, newborn, and child health by improving nutrition. The briefing was held in conjunction with World Food Day on Oct. 16.

Officials from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) described the intersecting nutrition goals of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives, while representatives of two global health organizations spoke about how new approaches to reducing malnutrition and under-nutrition are being carried out on the ground.

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