by Amanda Roach, program assistant, International Programs
At the March 7, 2012 event “A New Century: African Women, Health and the Future of Development,” Dr. Daniel Singer, Director for Global Health Research and International Activities at National Institutes of Health remarked, “Public health is like sex. Thinking about it and talking about it is not the same as doing it.” Those in attendance at the Africare-sponsored event shared his sentiment that more work is needed to implement women’s health initiatives in Africa.
On the eve of the 101st International Women’s Day, Africare, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation and Global Health and Diplomacy, assembled a panel of advocates to discuss the state of women’s health in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Singer was joined by an impressive list of women’s health and development supporters including: Kathy Calvin, CEO, United Nations Foundation; U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights; Ambassador Amina Salum Ali, African Union Ambassador to the U.S.; and Ambassador Mwanaidi S. Maajar, United Republic of Tanzania Ambassador to the U.S. The prevailing theme was how to best move forward the women’s health agenda in Africa.
Current statistics show it is very unlikely that sub-Saharan Africa will reach its target for UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5, which aims to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters between 1990 and 2015, and achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Though progress has been made in the majority of African nations, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa still report low rates of births attended by skilled professionals as well as high rates of maternal mortality and lifetime chances of women dying from maternal causes. In Ethiopia only 6 percent of births are attended by skilled professionals, only 14 percent in Chad, and 46 percent in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. In Chad and Somalia, 1,200 out of every 100,000 women die while giving birth, nearly twice the ratio in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Comparatively, while there is a 1 in 3,600 chance a woman will die from maternal causes in the developed world, sub-Saharan women face a ghastly 1 in 31 chance of dying from such causes. (Data from PRB’s 2011 World’s Women and Girls Data Sheet)
These staggering statistics indicate that efforts to improve women’s health on the continent have a long way to go. Kathy Calvin and Ambassador Maajar both addressed the need to turn talk into action after initiatives are written and commitments are made. Ambassador Maajar stated that some donor countries have yet to contribute their MDG monetary pledge to developing nations. Ambassador Ali and Dr. Singer spoke of the need to better integrate health systems so that women have a better chance of detecting and receiving treatment for both communicable diseases like . HIV and TB) and non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Dr. Singer also stressed the importance of getting decisionmakers to support women’s health by providing them with facts that show that investment in women’s health yields economic returns.
The event’s moderator, Diane White, COO of Africare, offered the audience the following statistic to end the day’s discussion:
“There is a 90 percent chance your cell phone was assembled by a woman, a 50 percent chance a woman picked your coffee beans, and a 70 percent chance a woman sold your clothes.”
Women are vital to a nation’s economic development. Shouldn’t they have the chance to receive the highest attainable standard of health?