It was all about the ladies during a two day conference to discuss the human resources crisis facing health, which impacts health systems throughout the world especially in developing countries already plagued with a high burden of disease.
The Global Health Workforce – Pathways to Health conference held last week (2-3 February 2012) at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) in collaboration with the Irish Forum for Global Health (IFGH) and Dublin City University (DCU), hosted a wealth of dignitaries, distinguished guests, researchers and students.
In a field where so many ‘big-wigs’ are men, the conference anticipates an impending shift in gender influence. Although there was no distinguishable difference in sex representation amongst attendees, females stole the show when it came to making lasting impressions and commanding the audience’s attention. If participants were polled, this author would guess that three of the top four most memorable presenters would be women. Their names? Ms. Dorothy Ngoma, Minister Mphu Ramatlapeng, and Ms. Yvonne Chaka Chaka.
Ms. Ngoma , Oxfam Ambassador and the executive director of the National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, began the first discussion by showing pictures of pregnant women in Malawi and explaining how they are encouraged to travel long distances to deliver in a setting with a skilled attendant, but are often met with lack of resources and staff.
She told the audience that this is “somebody’s sister, somebody’s mother”. She commanded attention by asking, then stating, “Can we do more? I think we can do more!” Ms. Ngoma put a face to the issues discussed throughout the conference. Her emphatic demeanour and her passion helped reiterate to the audience the importance of the human resources for health (HRH) issue and exactly how it affects individuals in low income countries.
The Honourable Minister of Health (MOH) of Lesotho, Ms. Mphu Ramatlapeng, commanded the stage throughout the whole two days. The initially shy-looking MOH came across with an air of approachability and power, with her strong and confident voice exceeding her petit frame. With knowledge and conviction, Ms. Ramatlapeng educated the audience, commended the Irish and Irish Aid for all their efforts in Lesotho, and spoke very bluntly on her work and her opinions on health.
She elicited a loud cheer when asked if teaching abstinence to prevent HIV in youth was ridiculous, and before the questioner could even finish she proclaimed “It’s ridiculous!”. Ms. Ramatlapeng helped give hope to health systems throughout Africa by highlighting her drive for change and also her stories of success.
Ms. Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a South African recording artist and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, stole the evening show. Not only did she have the whole audience dancing and singing during her two songs she was an engaging and powerful speaker who elicited laughter throughout the night. She was even able to entice Ms. Ramatlapeng and the Kenyan Ambassador, Her Excellency Catherine Muigai Mwangi, to dance on stage for all to witness.
Ms Chaka Chaka spoke with great conviction when discussing health issues, and the ever publicised ‘bad politics and politicians’ that go along with it and was not afraid to express her opinions by advocating for “giving credit to those who do good, and shaming those who do bad”. She ended the night by calling several distinguished male guests WOmen – Well Organised men, and by asking the attendees by song “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”
The conference was closed by Dr. Eilish McAuliffe, Director of the Centre for Global Health at Trinity College Dublin, who demonstrated her vast knowledge on the HRH crisis by summarising the conference findings, outlining ways forward and concluding with a positive spin on the dim reality.
Not to discredit the male presenters as they too were informative, passionate and entertaining, especially Father Michael Kelly, but the representation of women at the IFGH conference was undoubtedly inspiring. From the main organising committee (which included five women), to the volunteers (the majority of whom were female), to the key presenters and distinguished guests, women ran the show.
However, if we go by Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s definition, where everyone is a man, but the Well Organised ones are women, I think you would have been hard pressed to find a single ‘man’ in attendance. As a woman, an advocate and an individual, I was honoured to stand side-by-side with so many admirable and passionate people at the IFGH 2012 Pathways to Health conference, and was reassured that even though times are tough and resources are scarce, there are many strong and determined men and women who are not giving up any time soon.
This article was written as part of a series of articles written by the Key Correspondent Team (KC Team) who covered the IFGH 2012 International Conference.
For more information on the KC Team click here: www.keycorrespondents.org