Women in low income countries are more likely to feel the impact of poor access to healthcare in countries where systems broken by disaster, conflict and lack of resource cannot provide safe childbirth, treatment for cancers or chronic conditions.
Monday 8th March marks International Women's Day, which this year focuses on the theme of #ChooseToChallenge. We want to challenge the issues facing women's health around the world and prevent suffering due to limited access to adequate healthcare.
To do this, we work with dedicated partners to facilitate quality medical donations and get them to where they are needed. Among these partners are some incredible women who are helping us reach those in need, from healthcare workers administering the medicines, to our warehouse partners who help pack and ship them. We caught up with a few of them to hear their stories, and why they support the work of IHP.
“I myself am a breast cancer survivor. During my treatment I had to frequently go back and forth to the hospital in Amatitlan, which is about 20km away. It was then that I really became aware that for many people, this would be impossible and how difficult it is for those who do not have access to healthcare where they can reach it.”
Odelia’s personal experience inspired her to set up the clinic which opened 10 years ago.
“There are many challenges facing the people who live here. There is a high level of malnutrition, because of poverty and not having enough to eat, and because of eating the wrong things. It is not uncommon for parents to give their children coffee to try and fill them up when they cannot afford to feed them a proper meal. We see lots of skin conditions, linked to overcrowded living conditions, and poor environmental hygiene and lack of clean water. We also see too many cases of injuries connected to violence.”
Why is the support of IHP so important for clinics like yours?
“The support of IHP and those who donate medicines makes a huge difference to our patients who are in need. We do everything we can to avoid sending patients away without treatment, but sometimes a lack of medicines makes it inevitable.”
“A month ago a woman came in with her 9 year old daughter. They live in a village, far away, so it was not an easy journey for them. The girl had a small rash on her arm for which the doctor prescribed an ointment, but we didn’t have it in stock at the time, so they left empty-handed. They came back again 2 weeks ago, and by then the girls’ arm was covered in rashes, three times the size it had been before, and was beginning to get infected. She was in great discomfort. This time we did have medicines in stock, and we were able to treat her. She came back for a check-up this week and is now doing much better.”
Why does Johnson & Johnson support the work of IHP?
“Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been working with IHP for many years. I work within our community impact team, and IHP is one of our key strategic partners in product donation for disaster response, working with excess product we offer in the European market. Both J&J and IHP are involved in the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations (PQMD), and we have recently worked together to roll out an online module for our donation guidelines. We consider all of our product regulated, even the consumer bits, so the rigour of the process that IHP uses to manage our donations is very important to us. IHP is able to come to the table with the knowledge of how to do that properly, and that is really important. We also love how IHP works well with its partners in the field: it has good relationships and does a good job of vetting and making sure partners have the skills and capability to continue with appropriate project management. More recently, J&J and IHP have partnered to create a J&J system for managing product donations, based on their system currently in use.”
Why should women be celebrated on International Women’s Day?
“Women should be celebrated every day! Let’s be serious, you know. When you look at healthcare, at who drives the care, most of those involved are women, and they need to be brought fully into the picture. Before I came to J&J, I trained and worked as an electrical engineer, and I became used to being the only woman in the field. It’s hard being the only woman and the first woman, trying to build that respect for yourself and other women. But although that was interesting for me back in the 1980s, it’s 2021 now – and we need to be over that. All over the world, women are still struggling to break that barrier. It’s really important that the world acknowledges the role women play in the workplace, in communities, and in families – and not only celebrate them, but also make sure they are empowered and given the opportunities to reach their full potential.”
What inspired you to start Life for African Mothers (LFAM)?
“LFAM was not on my mind to do at all, but 16 years ago I came home after an incredibly busy shift at the University Hospital in Cardiff where I worked as a nurse on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The documentary that followed changed my life. It was a BBC Panorama show called 'Dead Mums Don't Cry' featuring one woman’s fight to stop women dying in childbirth in Chad. At this one hospital, they were losing at least one woman every day and almost a quarter of the babies weren’t surviving. In Cardiff we’d lost two women in 12 years. Just because of where these women were in the world, their chances of survival were dramatically lower than here in the west.”
Inspired to act, Angela went on to found Life for African Mothers in 2006. Since then, the organisation has trained over 1,600 midwives, and through its partnership with IHP, has sent over 4.5 million doses of donated medication to prevent post-partum haemorrhage. On the basis that each woman is given three tablets, LFAM has been able to offer around 1.5 million women lifesaving treatment across six countries including Chad, Cameroon, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Congo.
In global health and perhaps also in your specific area, do you think we have seen progress for women’s equality and life chances in the last five years?
“Overall the statistics are not getting too much better, and the numbers of women dying are not coming down as they should. I feel the lack of political will is disgraceful, but so much else is going on that it can drop off the agenda. If 300,000 men were dying each year from preventable causes, don’t you think more would be done about it? We do fly the flag and in two of the main countries we work in, Liberia and Sierra Leone, things are getting better and rates of risk have improved, no question. In other places, it’s not so good. Nigeria and India, for example, account for a third of total maternal deaths worldwide. Nigeria is rich in resources and has a population three times that of the UK. It loses 60,000 women a year. We are working with someone in Nigeria whose focus is to accelerate progress on the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and we are asking him to make maternal health the top priority.”
Having access to good healthcare is fundamental, and yet, for so many women around the world, it remains out of reach.
By becoming a regular giver this International Women's Day, you can help us support women in need over the long term. With just £10 a month we can provide 40 pregnant women with lifesaving medicine. #ChooseToChallenge.
Thank you for your ongoing support and for helping us reach more women in need around the world.
Adele Paterson - CEO