Women persevere. Women are resourceful. Women LEAD.

This post originally appeared on LMGforHealth.org.

Belkis Giorgis speaks at the LMG panel. [Photo credit: S. Lindsay/MSH]

Belkis Giorgis speaks at the LMG panel. [Photo credit: S. Lindsay/MSH]

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Belkis Giorgis was in North Nigeria at a health clinic. At this clinic, Giorgis asked the midwives why women continue to prefer to deliver their babies at home. The midwives told her that the clinic throws away the placenta after delivery, while giving birth at home allowed the women to bury their placenta as is traditionally done. Giorgis then inquired why the midwives did not fix this seemingly easy obstacle. “I don’t have a voice,” the midwife said. “The men [at the clinic] say the women should get over it.”

It was this visit that led Giorgis to wonder: What if women were the health leaders? Would services be more women friendly?

Giorgis’ story set the foundation for LMG’s panel, “Women Deliver as those who Manage, Lead, and Govern for Health,” on Wednesday, May 29, at the Women Deliver 2013 Conference. Joining Giorgis on the panel moderated by LMG director Dr. Jim Rice was Honorable Ruth Nvumetta Kavuma, former parliamentarian in Uganda, Constance Newman, senior team leader of gender equality and health at IntraHealth, and Dr. Narjis Rizvi, an assistant professor at Aga Khan University.

The diverse panel clearly illustrated that women are not well represented in leadership positions in health systems. In Kenya, Newman said, 43% of the health workforce is male, but 77% of these men are in senior leadership positions. Conversely, women are 57% of the health workforce, but make up only 23% of senior leaders in Kenya’s health sector.

Explaining this pattern, Newman said, “Women and girls face a force field of accumulating inequalities and disadvantage starting at their primary school years and continuing to their retirement years.”

Rizvi reported a similar pattern in Pakistan, “Despite Pakistan’s laws and constitution and the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, women are still underrepresented in senior leadership positions.”

The panelists, however, were adamant that this pattern can change.

“We need to put women in leadership positions. Let them make the mistakes. The men make mistakes, but when women make the mistakes, people act like it’s the worst thing in the world. We need to support them through these mistakes,” Kavuma told the crowd. Supporting women’s confidence in the public eye is key to building strong women leaders, she stated.

And it’s not just up to women to make the change. Giorgis said:

“There are many opportunities [to advance women’s leadership], start by making sure we put forward the justification that women can lead. Women are resourceful. Women persevere. Women are capable of leading. It requires advocacy not only from women, but from men as well.”

“Change the behavior, ideas, and lenses that men see women leaders through,” Rice said, and we will see progress.

Rice and Newman ended the panel with a request for evidence. “We want to move from anecdotes to rigorous impact studies,” Rice said.  Newman continued with a request for the audience: “Invest in participatory action research, where women look at the data of their own lives. Understand it, frame it, and build upon it.”

Sarah Lindsay is a communications specialist with LMG at MSH.

Against all odds: Meeting maternal, newborn, and child health needs in the DRC

Kristin Cooney. (Photo courtesy K. Cooney)

Kristin Cooney. (Photo courtesy K. Cooney)

by Kristin Cooney

I had the pleasure of presenting stories and results from a successful DRC project on Tuesday, May 28, day one of Women Deliver 2013.

The USAID-funded Integrated Health Project (IHP) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), implemented by Management Sciences for Health, the International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Ltd, is creating better conditions for, and increasing the availability and use of high-impact health services, products, and practices in 80 health zones in four provinces (Kasaï Occidental, Kasaï Oriental, Katanga, and Sud Kivu.

IHP addresses three major bottlenecks hampering the performance of health services: (1) poor availability of medicines and essential inputs related to supply chain management; (2) limited availability of qualified human resources to implement high-impact interventions for the health of the mother and the child; and (3) low quality of care.

Audience members participate in a Q&A with the panelists. (Photo: R. Hassinger/MSH)

Audience members participate in a Q&A with the panelists. (Photo: R. Hassinger/MSH)

Although working in a fragile state where instability persists, IHP applies a development approach that demonstrates that, even against many odds, health programs can achieve results in challenging settings—they just need to be innovative and persistent to achieve their goals.

Using a range of high-impact practices and approaches in maternal, neonatal, and child health and family planning that were selected through careful analysis, including use of the Lives Saved Tool (LiST)—such as integrated services, Leadership Development Programs, fully-functional service delivery points, and a range of behavior change communication approaches (i.e. mHealth and Champion Communities)—IHP has achieved impressive results in fistula care, family planning, rates of assisted delivery, and active management of the third stage of labor, among other health indicators.

DRC-IHP

An important focus of the program is counseling women and families on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies at health center and community level. Community-based distribution of family planning methods is improving contraceptive security and promoting a range of modern contraceptive methods and includes training and supporting community workers to deliver family planning and to refer and accompany couples to health centers to choose a contraceptive method.

Selected findings include:

  • Couple years of protection as of March 2013 was 122,523, which is 111% of the target of 110,000.
  • New acceptors of family planning as of March 2013 was 136,302, or 113% of the target of 120,728.
  • As of December 2013, the percent of women receiving Active Management of the Third Stage of Labor, at 84%, was 105% of the target of 80%.

IHP is getting the right commodities into the right, competent hands at the right time to produce impressive results, against all odds.

Kristin Cooney is a director, country portfolio, at MSH.

Jobs and Java: MSH Kicks-Off First-Ever Women Deliver Career Fair

Leslie Duvall

Leslie Duvall. (Photo credit: R. Hassinger/MSH)

by Leslie Duvall

MSH kicked off Women Deliver’s first-ever Career Fair on Wednesday morning, May 29, with a panel at 7:30 am focused on mid-career professional advancement.

We had an excellent turn out–standing room only–and discussed several different effective approaches to career transition and advancement in the field of public health.

Tips on networking, interviewing, CV development and career selection were also given out to attendees.

Women Deliver's career fair kicks off with MSH's "Jobs & Java". (Photo credit: Ian Lathrop/MSH)

Women Deliver’s career fair kicks off with MSH’s “Jobs & Java”. (Photo credit: Ian Lathrop/MSH)

A special thanks to Jonathan Rucks (director of advocacy for Pathfinder International), Suzanne Diarra (senior technical advisor for Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services [SIAPS] at MSH), and Dr. Shariha Khalid (executive director and co-founder of Scope Group) for their participation on the panel and sharing with us their career backgrounds, experiences, and invaluable advice.

Leslie Duvall is a senior talent acquisition specialist at MSH.

Learn more about working with MSH.

Saving Lives of Women and Newborns by Improving Access to Essential Maternal Health Commodities

By Suzanne Diarra and Maheen Malik

Maheen Malik

Maheen Malik. (Photo credit: Rachel Hassinger/MSH)

Suzanne Diarra

Suzanne Diarra. (Photo credit: R. Hassinger/MSH)

For many women and newborns in developing countries, pregnancy and childbirth can be life-threatening. Ensuring access to essential high quality medicines and supplies across the continuum of care is often a hidden part of the solution.

Safe and effective maternal health medicines and supplies exist but are not often available when and where women, newborn and children need them the most.

These topics and more were discussed at a Maternal Health Commodities pre-conference event on Monday, May 27, sponsored by Family Care International, PATH, and Population Action International.

As maternal, newborn and child health medicines and supplies needs are being elevated on global agendas through global initiatives such as the UN Commission for life saving commodities for women and children, it takes multifaceted skills and efforts at country level to translate these global initiatives into appropriate local interventions that improve access to high quality medicines and supplies for women across the continuum of care.

MSH promotes a systems-strengthening approach to identify challenges with delivering essential pharmaceuticals and services to women, newborns and children by working with managers at all levels of health systems, policy makers, providers, and communities to build capacity and strengthen health systems to address these challenges and improve access of women and children to life saving medicines and supplies.

Suzanne Diarra and Maheen Malik are senior technical advisors for Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services (SIAPS) at MSH.

Call for Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention, Screening, Treatment, and Palliation: The Time to Act is Now

By Gloria Sangiwa

Gloria SangiwaOn Monday, May 27, MSH joined a group of international organizations to launch the Call for Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention at the Global Forum on Cervical Cancer Prevention, one of the pre-conference events for the Women Deliver 3rd global conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It Is Possible

It’s estimated that there 530,000 new cervical cancer cases each year, of which about 85 percent are in low and middle Income Countries (LMIC).  But the good news is that we know that cervical cancer is vaccine preventable. The cost of vaccines that prevent cervical cancers has been reduced significantly.

We also know that cervical cancer is treatable if diagnosed and treated early.

We have the tools, methods and diverse approaches for different settings. We know what works. We know what it costs. We have innovative game-changing solutions that can be taken to scale. And, we have a call to action that, if adopted and supported, would prevent suffering, avert millions of premature deaths among young girls and women, and would help promote a better quality of life for millions of girls and women in the world.

Through sharing and exchanging information at this conference, we were reminded that by addressing missed opportunities, and leveraging other global work and interventions like family planning and reproductive health; maternal, newborn, and child health programs; and all the progress made on infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, we can significantly decrease the sufferings and death as result of cervical cancer.

For instance, we can translate the successes of immunization programs and decades of unprecedented global support for prevention and treatment of major killers like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria prevention to potentially protect and reduce sufferings and death as a result of cervical cancer.

We know this is possible. Mildred is HIV positive and lives in rural Uganda. She was recently screened for cervical cancer. Because of community outreach, supported by the MSH-managed STAR-E project, funded by USAID, she went to a nearby clinic as part of the ongoing and expanded “Prevention for Positive” activities (Watch Mildred’s Story).

She was fortunate that her health care workers had the training to screen, diagnose and treat her pre-cancerous lesions correctly using the low cost innovative approach termed the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) method, and that health care providers and a community volunteer helped her to adhere to treatment.

Other women have not fared as well.

Opportunity and responsibility: Act Now

This is an exciting time: we can reduce the inequality of cervical cancer prevention, care and treatment; bridge the divide between and within countries and regions by:

  • leveraging existing platforms;
  • addressing missed opportunities;
  • advocating and increasing awareness to everyone, including legislators, parliamentarians, communities and health workers; and
  • acknowledging that integrated health programs serve families better

We need to debunk the myths; reduce barriers and stigma; promote community and country driven  responses and make products, technology and medicine accessible to all at an affordable cost.

But we need to act now because no girl or woman deserves to die from preventable illness like cervical cancer, especially when we have a vaccine. All beneficiaries, like Mildred, must benefit from a “whole system ownership” response with contributions from all sectors (public, civil society, and private). All beneficiaries must be involved in the design and implementation of health system innovations.

We must must make cervical cancer a priority and act now.

WOMEN LEAD: On Gender Equity, UHC, and Family Planning

Photo by Warren Zelman.

Photo by Warren Zelman.

The May issue of the MSH Global Health Impact newsletter (subscribe) features stories on gender equity, UHC, and family planning including:

Read newsletter now >>

(You might notice that our website has a different look and feel. We are in the process of redesigning MSH.org; and YOU are getting a sneak peak of the site before our June 14 launch! More >>)

Stop Women From Dying: A Personal Reflection on Ending the Cervical Cancer Crisis

Shannon EnglandAt the Global Cervical Cancer Forum Monday, May 27, before the official start of Women Deliver 2013, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my family.

My aunt was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was a student at university. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child. A little over a year after finding out she had cancer, she died.

She was only 31.

She left behind a newborn baby and an infant son—along with a devastated family who could not imagine how to move on from the death of their wife, daughter and sister. My cousins had to grow up without a mother.  And I could not understand how my “cool aunt”—the one who wore bell bottoms and introduced my “traditional” Midwestern family to the “radical” concepts of meditation and vegetarianism—could suddenly be gone.

We did not know back then that cervical cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted virus, HPV. We’ve come a long way since then. Today there is a vaccine can prevent HPV, prevent cervical cancer, and prevent women from dying.

Despite the proven technological advances and 70 percent efficacy, too many women and girls are not getting the vaccine. Some do not have access to it because they live in places where the vaccine is unavailable or too expensive. Some are thwarted by soundless fears that giving the vaccine to girls will increase promiscuity—despite research proving otherwise. For most women and girls, the story ends there: the virus is harmless. But some of the unlucky ones will later develop cervical cancer. And sadly, some of them, like my aunt, will die. The HPV virus is very common—and without intervention—the odds are high that women will become infected.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m extremely proud to be working for MSH, an organization which, together with our partner, USAID, supports Ministries of Health in Uganda and Ethiopia in offering integrated basic screening and treatment services for cervical cancer. I’m hopeful we can expand to more countries as donor funding increases. I’m thrilled that the costs of HPV vaccines have gone down—so that future generations of girls and women around the world may never even need treatment. And I’m convinced that it will take all of us working together and spreading the word in our communities to combat myths about cervical cancer and the vaccine.

It is time to stop women from dying.

Because kids should never lose a Mom — or families a beloved aunt — from a disease we can prevent.

Shannon England is vice president of strategic development and communications at MSH.

Read more about our work in chronic diseases.

Confronting Global Health Challenges Together: MSH-Hosted Reception Highlights Public-Private Partnerships

Women Deliver 2013 – MSH Reception on Public/Private Partnerships

(Photos: Rachel Hassinger/MSH, Willow Gerber/MSH, and Ben Weingrod/CARE)

Over 150 people, including international health experts, donors, advocates, and policy makers, gathered Sunday, May 26 in Kuala Lumpur to kick off the Women Deliver 2013 Conference. Hosted by MSH and PSI, the evening reception celebrated the role of public-private partnerships in saving lives and building stronger health systems for healthier nations.

Special guests included Paul W. Jones (@AmbassadorJones), US Ambassador to Malaysia; Barbara Bush, CEO & Co-Founder of Global Health Corps (@ghcorps); Mandy Moore (@TheMandyMoore), singer-songwriter, actress and PSI Global Ambassador; Sharon K. D’Agostino (@SharonDAgostino), VP of Corporate Citizenship at Johnson & Johnson; Karl Hoffman (@KarlHofmannPSI), CEO of PSI; and Dr. Jono Quick (@jonoquick), President and CEO of MSH (@MSHHealthImpact).

Global Cervical Cancer Forum: Live Webcast Here

Watch The Global Forum on Cervical Cancer Prevention opening and closing plenaries from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday, May 27, 2013 (time conversions below).

Tune in here for lively conversations with global leaders, including: Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI Alliance; Ms. Genevieve Sambhi, cervical cancer survivor; Ambassador, Power Over Cervical Cancer; Mrs. Graça Machel, Foundation for Community Development and Graça Machel Trust; Mr. Yuvraj Singh, cancer survivor, Indian Cricketer; Dr. Felicia Knaul, Director, Harvard Global Equity Initiative; Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata, First Lady, Zambia; and Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck, Minister of Health, Senegal, among others.

Speakers will discuss ways to push forward cervical cancer prevention efforts and call on the global community to sign a call for universal access to cervical cancer prevention.

The forum is one of several pre-events to the Women Deliver 3rd Global Conference.

Time Zone Conversions

Opening Plenary: Breaking Down Barriers in Access will stream live at 9am MYT on Monday, 27 May. This is equivalent to:

  • 9:00pm EDT (Sunday, 26 May)
  • 6:00pm PDT (Sunday, 26 May)
  • 1:00am GMT
  • 3:00am SAST/CEST
  • 6:30am IST

Closing Plenary: Making Universal Access a Reality will stream live at 4:30pm MYT on Monday, 27 May. This is equivalent to:

  • 4:30am EDT
  • 1:30am PDT
  • 8:30am GMT
  • 10:30am SAST/CEST
  • 2:00pm IST