International Women Day

Where did your passion for global health begin, and what led you to focus specifically on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care in humanitarian crises?

From a young age I knew I wanted to travel and learn new languages. In College I loved sociology, demography, economics, and global affairs.

After my bachelors, I joined the Peace Corps, and I solidified my interest in women’s health and SRH. Women always came to me and asked questions about pregnancy, menstruation, contraception, and safety.

They wanted to know how not to have babies every year. Cameroon, for example, was pronatalist at the time and there were no services available, no family planning. So, I decided that was what I was going to work on.

How has your experience in the field shaped your stance as a board member of Doctors of the World?

After I got a master’s degree in Public Health in Population and Family Planning, I returned overseas to work in the field for another 8 years. I need to be on the ground and see how things work to really be able to do a good job. I think that field sense, what’s really feasible, what is missing, how to get things done. That is what I bring to the board.

The other piece is my obsession with data. When it comes to programs, we need to have clear objectives about what we want to obtain, and then we need to measure those. We need to know what is working and what isn’t. That way we can make improvements. It’s a weak component of many organizations. So, I push on the board to do that. Measurement is key.

And then there is dissemination, getting the news out to the field. So, once you know there are programs working, how they’re working, and how it can be made to work better, we need to share with other organizations, with the professional field, and of course the communities. This way we don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time and can learn from other programs. So, sending the word out is also what I’m trying to accomplish on the board.

Can you discuss a specific program you have worked on in your career that you are particularly proud of?
I’ve loved all my programs, and I really am very proud of the work I’ve done. The early programs, which for me were in the 80s starting with the first ever family planning programs in so many countries in Western and Eastern Africa, was very exciting. It was brand new in public health systems. People were concerned, wondering if the men were going to revolt or if the women were going to storm the streets! We studied, tested, measured to understand not only the health effects, but all the other implications in family life. It worked and countries made the programs larger. That was thrilling!

I guess that’s been the theme of my career, let’s do something that’s never been done before and see what happens!

I also co-founded RAISE with Sarah Casey. We took on not only services and research, but also advocacy, education, medical training, all aspects to make this standard in humanitarian organizations. It’s a great program that affected the field very broadly.

Do you have any guidance/advice for women looking to work on the field or in a humanitarian organization in general?

You must listen, listen to women, to colleagues. And you must be respectful. As public health professionals, we bring lots of skills to the table, but the other partners bring their awareness and knowledge too. You don’t have all the answers and you must work together to develop new solutions.
People interested in getting into this field need to keep in mind that it’s hard. It can be hard physically and it’s searing on the soul. Sometimes you see things that nobody should ever see or experience, and it can be dangerous. Also, any job that requires frequent absences can weigh on your personal life. So young people coming into their career need to think about what they want professionally and in their personal life and find the right balance.

What are your biggest concerns regarding the impact that the Russian-Ukrainian war will have on the sexual & reproductive health of the population?

If prior emergencies are of any guide, Sexual and Reproductive Health will be sidelined. It’s not food, water, shelter, or sanitation. We need to do everything and that is incredibly difficult. Unfortunately, when it comes to SRH, it’s always secondary and that’s because women are seen as second-class citizens.
The health needs remain there despite the crisis; women are still pregnant, women are still having sex, women still don’t want to get pregnant, women still want to terminate pregnancies safely, women are still going to get STIs, and women are still experiencing gender-based violence. There’s a whole range of reproductive health services that are needed. And it’s very likely they’re not going to be there and that’s a big problem.
In addition, there’s one specific concern with this current crisis. Ukraine has quite a liberal abortion policy, while Poland for example (where a large part of the population is going) has very restrictive abortion policies. Many Ukrainian women who find themselves in Poland will discover that they can’t get the kind of care that they are accustomed to.

The post International Women Day appeared first on Doctors of the World.

The post International Women Day appeared first on Doctors of the World.

This post was originally published on Doctors of the World.


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