By Dr. Christine Sadia

Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA) Regional Conference 2018, which begins in Nairobi Kenya, on 11th November, comes at a time when Women’s health issues have increasingly become crucial in shaping global, regional and national discourses in ensuring sustainable development goals are met.

Thus, this conference with the theme “Accelerating Women’s Health Agenda: Priorities and Opportunities through UN SDGs and AU Agenda 2063.” and being hosted by Kenya Medical Women Association (KMWA), aims at harmonising the voices of women in medicine in advocating and identifying solutions to women’s health agenda through the lens of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The nations of the world set goals when adopting the SDGs in 2015. Universal health coverage (UHC) is the goal that all people receive the essential health services that they need, without being exposed to financial hardship, and is central to the health-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). UHC is both an end in itself, as expressed in SDG target 3.8, as well as the most logical way to ensure progress towards meeting other health-related SDG targets.

It will also explore how different countries within the region and beyond are making progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to respond more effectively to the shifting burden of disease, end extreme poverty, and boost shared prosperity.

Globally, overall progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality and, to a greater extent, infant mortality and morbidity rates. Despite progress, societies are still failing women in relation to health, most acutely in poor countries and among the poorest women in all countries. This has been due to country-led, multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration and mutual accountability for results, resources and rights.

These progresses towards UHC will make milestone towards the other health-related targets, and towards the other goals. However, how different countries will implement their UHC will be the game changer, including the type of UHC they chose to implement and how they finance them.

More than ever before, governments, policy makers, donors and development partners need to show continued commitment in supporting women’s health issues with an aim of alleviating problems that gender related and women specific among women and girls across the globe.

As the world reflects on the progress made in the two decades since the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform of Action and adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, women’s and girls’ health remains a powerful reminder that much work remains to be done to address gender inequality and equity which leaves out more than 52% of the world population that could fast-track socio economic development.

Health experts including health professional have broadened the spectrum of women’s health and wellbeing from a narrow reproductive or maternal health, to encompass their entire lifespan. This expanded scope incorporates health challenges that affect women beyond their reproductive years and those that they share with men.

These include communicable and non-communicable diseases, leading to high prevalence of chronic conditions, mental health disorders, injuries, and health problems related to climate change and environmental degradation.

Women’s health and wellbeing matters immensely and when given attention could spur rapid sustainable development of every nation and a region. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of self and of family.”

Further the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) against Women is the principal international human rights treaty addressing the rights of women. Women’s health is therefore recognized as a human rights issue and should be promoted and defended as such. The Kenya’s Constitution under Article 43 guarantees right to health including reproductive health, therefore right to health adopting right-based approaches to health deliver should be promoted.

About three years ago, the UN General Assembly in New York adopted a new roadmap: the 17 SDGs for progress to 2030. Goal 3 is dedicated to health and consists of nine main targets, including reductions in maternal and child mortality, substance misuse, road traffic accidents, universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, prevent deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, and reduce death from non-communicable diseases.

However, many other goals like water and sanitation, poverty reduction, and climate change are also health related. The issue that must preoccupy many policy makers, leaders, global health practitioners and professionals, regional and national entities is how to make it work and avoid the pitfalls that were experienced with the MDGs.

The evolving socioeconomic, political, environmental and demographic contexts for women’s health needs require urgent attention with a view to ensuring that girls and women not only survive, but also thrive and transform so that these benefits are transferred to the next generation. Remember, this region is dealing with opportunity but also a threat from the youth bulge and demographic dividend.

These are some of the issues that will form the backbone for discussion during Conference that will be graced by among other dignitaries, Dr. Joyce Banda, the former Malawian President and Founder of Joyce Banda Foundation. MWIA President – Prof. Dr. Dr. Bettina and many other renowned women in medicine and social sector.

It is a rich platform that brings together women in medicine, academicians, industry experts, policy makers, science and global health actors to share ideas on how to fast-track and accelerate women’s health agenda through various global and regional blueprints such as the SDGs in advancing health for women, children and adolescents. The conference is therefore timely as MWIA affiliates in the region reposition themselves to leverage on resources and partnerships that will contribute to the achievement of health related SDGS and this time around meet the targets set.

The writer is the President of Kenya Medical Women’s Association (KMWA)