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To mark World Health Day, we’re celebrating the inspirational women working on the frontlines of healthcare in the world’s poorest communities.
Across the world, women are instrumental in providing healthcare, making up 70% of the global health workforce. Despite this, they face inequality every day, earning significantly less than their male counterparts, experiencing gender bias and holding only a quarter of senior roles across the sector.
The coronavirus pandemic has further highlighted the lack of gender parity within healthcare. There have been severe shortages of personal protective equipment that fits women, exposing them to greater risk of infection, and women’s voices have been largely absent from the design and delivery of Covid-19 responses - despite their central role in treating the virus.
Covid-19 has also brought to light the harsh reality of health inequities around the world. Its impact has been toughest on communities that were already vulnerable and less likely to have access to quality health care services – communities that we’ve worked with for over 50 years.
At Concern, we see first-hand the important role women in healthcare play in the world’s poorest countries, and the transformational impact they’re having on their communities. This World Health Day, we’d like to introduce you to some of them.
Health worker Nelly and Immunisation Coordinator Emielliene at Bekadili Health Facility, a Concern-supported health centre in the Central African Republic. The two women told us that, on average, they both deliver around 15 babies every month.
For health professionals like Nelly and Emielliene, working in one of the world’s poorest countries can be extremely challenging. Health services in the region are unreliable: they are often temporarily closed, frequently run out of essential medicines, and do not have nearly enough qualified staff, equipment or monitoring tools. Sadly, the Central African Republic has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, highlighting the severity of the situation.
Chagawa* is seen by Concern midwife Rebekka at a Mobile Health Clinic in rural Aweil, South Sudan. Chagawa* has eight children and is nine months pregnant with her ninth. She comes to the clinic every time it’s here – today she is having labour pains as she is close to her due date. It can take Chagawa* up to three hours to walk from her home to the nearest health facility, which is why mobile clinics like these are so important.
Globally, 24 million of the 28.5 million nurses and midwives are women like Rebekka– but across South Sudan, there is a severe shortage of midwives, particularly in rural areas. Daily, Rebekka meets with around ten pregnant women to provide prenatal care and advice alongside a traditional birth attendant, who assists the women between Rebekka’s visits.
Moussa Zouéra, Chief Nursing Officer of the Integrated Health Centre of Koufantawa, Niger. She told us, “Every morning, I check the departments within the Centre; the maternity section, family planning, the sorting room, infectious disease care and infusion.”
Despite the fact that seven out of ten workers across the health sector are women, they hold only 25% of senior roles. In a sector and society that has historically placed more value on male leadership, women like Moussa are trailblazers – whose voices have the incredible potential to improve the delivery of health services around the world, particularly for women.
A Concern Health Worker checks a young child for malnutrition in Chad. With the lack of diverse foods in the region, many children suffer from malnutrition and have limited options for treatment.
The MUAC band pictured measures the girth of the patient's arm and indicates if a patient is malnourished, so they can access life-saving treatment. Last year, we worked on the prevention and management of malnutrition in 91 villages in the region, while staff from Concern’s health centre provided care to over 19,800 children and mothers.
Lwanzo, a health worker from Lukanga, Democratic Republic of Congo, prepares for a community demonstration on equipment to wear when treating an infectious disease patient.
Health workers like Lwanzo across the country have dealt with infectious diseases long before Covid-19, since 1976 when the first case of Ebola was recorded. As recently as 7 February, the twelfth outbreak of Ebola was declared in North Kivu province, in the country's northeast.
Alaa Idrees is a Protection Training Officer in Lebanon. She works with women and children who are survivors of gender-based violence, providing guidance, resources, protection and psychosocial support at the most critical time. Alaa told us, “My main purpose is to help the survivors improve their quality of life."
It’s estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, which is associated with long-term mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During displacement and times of crisis, the threat of gender-based violence significantly increases for women and girls.
Rebekah, a Concern Community Health Worker, visits Nyariemi and her 8-month-old son, Parnath, at their home in the Pugnido refugee camp, Gambella, Ethiopia.
Across the Gambella region, there are over 300,000 refugees like Nyariemi and Parnath, the majority of whom are women and children who have fled conflict in their home countries. Although there is some form of healthcare in camps like Pugnido refugee camp, women health professionals like Rebekah are often lacking in these contexts, which can have significant impacts on female refugees’ wellbeing.
Chawada is a Community Health Volunteer in Niger who’s been trained by Concern to support improved health and nutrition in her village. As well as providing education to mothers, she helps to identify malnourished children and refer them for treatment at the nearest health centre, where they receive a course of therapeutic food.
In many of the countries Concern operates in, communities depend on Health Volunteers like Chawada – the majority of which are women – to deliver essential medical care and health education. Despite the critical role they play, many of these women are not paid for their services.
Mrs Abarchi Madamia, President of the MISOLA Enriched Flour production unit in Niger. Mrs Madamia manages a group of 15 women who produce fortified wheat flour, which is used as part of Concern’s Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) programme to treat acute malnutrition in young children. The flour contains essential vitamins and minerals and is portioned into supplements that children take for five days.
In Niger, 1.3 million children under five currently have acute malnutrition. Producing enriched flour is an inexpensive but effective strategy for supplying essential vitamins and minerals to these children.
A student from Concern’s Makerspace Programme in Nairobi University, Kenya. Through a partnership between the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta National Hospital, university engineers and students are teaming up with maternity ward doctors, nurses and biomedical engineers to design high-quality, accessible and affordable medical equipment for their local community.
Across Africa, the coronavirus pandemic has kickstarted the development of more than 120 health innovation projects like this one. Kenya is among the top four countries that has piloted new health technologies to assist the Covid-19 response, including solar-powered automatic handwashing tools and apps sharing information about preventing the spread of the virus.
Next year, Khadan Hamed will graduate high school in Somalia with hopes of becoming a doctor.
Although the number of women entering higher education in sub-Saharan Africa has increased, gender disparity remains. Only 30% of science professionals in sub-Saharan Africa are women. The challenges for women begin early; even though the number of girls attending primary school is similar to the number of boys in many African countries, the chances of getting into university can be five times lower for women than for men in the region.
Women of Concern in the global health workforce
In a year that’s been like no other, we’ve seen the critical role that women in the health workforce play in the world’s poorest countries, enabling vulnerable communities to access health services and equipping them with vital knowledge and awareness.
Although the world is a long way from achieving gender equality within the health sector, at Concern we’ll continue to prioritise and amplify the voices of women like Alaa, Rebekka, Moussa and Nelly – who are giving us hope that a healthier, fairer world is on the horizon.
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*Some names have been changed for security reasons
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