GHIC 2018: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 14-15, 2018
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite for Sight’s 2010 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report By Abby Hannifan, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

Women's Health Session

This session opened with a unique presentation from Lisa Russell, a filmmaker who is in the process of establishing a media site called “MDGFive.com,” set to launch in September 2010. In an effort to achieve the benchmarks of Goal 5 (Maternal Health) of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Lisa has teamed up with artists in the developed and developing world to compile a database of film clips and other creative mediums portraying the importance of women’s health issues. These works can then be accessed by activists to be used in public service announcements to lobby agencies and policy-makers working in international development. The endnote of her presentation included a resoundingly poignant mantra, “A life for a life leaves the whole world barren.” Read more about her movement here.

The next presentation, “Obstetric Fistula – The Ultimate Indignity, Gender Inequality, and Poverty,” was given by Kate Grant, executive director of The Fistula Foundation. I was greatly anticipating this discussion for two reasons:

Nick’s articles on fistulas:

Thus, even before meeting Kate Grant, I had high expectations. And throughout her brief talk, she definitely fulfilled them. Kate described that fistulas—“the single most dramatic afterbirth effect” caused by a mal-positioning of the fetus in the uterus, or the mother’s immature pelvic structure due to young age at delivery or malnourishment—can be reduced by increasing the ratio of trained birth attendants to patients, for one.

In the United States, this ratio is 1 birth attendant : 3,743 patients.
In Ethiopia, this ratio is 1 birth attendant : 160,215.

This, of course, won’t do any good if nurses and other medical professionals in the developing world aren’t trained to recognize and appropriately treat fistulas (since fistulas have been virtually eradicated in the United States and other industrialized countries, physicians in the West aren’t familiar with reconstructive surgical procedures … so local information transfer and skill-sharing is just about the only way to go). Hence, strengthening local knowledge exchange and training systems in countries where fistulas persist, along with ensuring that women from rural areas have access to life-improving surgery, holds promise in ridding women of this dehumanizing condition.

Kate drew upon the words of Oprah Winfrey, who mentioned on an episode about fistulas that “Women need to become better advocates for their sisters,” to encourage the audience to empathize and mobilize on behalf of their fellow females. She ended her presentation by recalling the proverb spoken by the first president of Kenya: “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.” The lion is the gross disparity in health and social equality women experience, and its consequent effects on relationships, job obtainment, and general happiness. The spiders are us … everyone capable of weaving a weapon against the forces that threaten to keep women with fistulas subservient to the uncontrollability of their own bodies.

The last two presenters, Miriam Cremer from Basic Health International (who presented “Cervical Cancer Prevention Program in Rural El Salvador”) and Mini Murthy from New York Medical College School of Public Health (who presented “Society, Migration, Culture, and Women”) also discussed a need for health equity, social protection of women and their health, and a renewed focus on the role of women in alleviating some of the structural inefficiencies that cause worldwide poverty.

Key Takeaways