“Advocating for women and adolescent girls' agency - their ability to make informed decisions about and take charge of their own health and well-being is my true calling in life.'' — Jihan Salad

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“Advocating for women and adolescent girls' agency - their ability to make informed decisions about and take charge of their own health and well-being is my true calling in life.'' — Jihan Salad

Subscribe. Stay up to date with my latest articles.

World Population Day,

11/07/2023

On this World Population Day, let's not forget the millions of displaced people in need of immediate life-saving maternal and newborn health services.

As of today, around 60 million people in the Horn of Africa are urgently in need of support, 15.3 million people require humanitarian assistance in Syria, and about 2.5 million people have been displaced since the onset of the conflict in Sudan. Due to the impacts of climate change, conflict, and poverty, we are witnessing increasing humanitarian and fragile contexts worldwide. According to the 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview report, a staggering 339 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2023. Among them are millions of pregnant people, of which 15% are at risk of developing life-threatening complications that require skilled care at birth.


Humanitarian crises drastically affect some already fragile health systems, including maternal and newborn health outcomes: the Mortality in Humanitarian Settings Dashboard shows that 64% of global maternal deaths, 50% of newborn deaths, and 51% of stillbirths happen in the 29 countries with UN Humanitarian Appeals in 2023. These deaths are often directly linked to causes such as hemorrhage, infections, blood pressure disorders of pregnancy, complications from delivery, and unsafe abortion. Other factors contributing to maternal and newborn deaths, as often witnessed in crisis-affected settings, include a dysfunctional or deteriorated health infrastructure with stock-outs in essential drugs, lack of adequate supplies, utilities, and equipment, and shortages of health workers (e.g., midwives).


Decades of global humanitarian crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, highlight an unfortunate and recurring pattern: the decreased prioritization of maternal and newborn health, including the lack of prioritizing midwifery as a key strategy for reducing maternal and newborn deaths. Aside from countries' humanitarian focus on putting already limited resources into preventing infectious diseases and addressing other basic needs of the population, there's another reason for the lack of prioritization: gender inequality. It is gender inequality that leads to the de-prioritization of essential services for women. It is gender inequality that keeps women and girls out of school. It is gender inequality that limits women from making their own decisions on accessing maternal and newborn health. It is also gender inequality that excludes most women from holding leadership roles in health.


On this World Population Day, which is celebrated under the theme of "Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world's infinite possibilities," I want to underscore the importance of advancing gender equality to improve maternal and newborn health in the context of growing population-related concerns, such as climate change, pandemics, and conflicts. If we want to create a more stable, peaceful, and resilient world of infinite possibilities, then we need to make sure that more newborns survive and make it through the first months of life; more women experience a safe birth with respectful and professional care; and more women are able to make free, informed decisions and choices about their health and reproductive lives, regardless of where they live.


As UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, stated in the recently published 2023 State of World Population report: "The relationship between reproductive autonomy and healthier lives is an uncontested truth: as women are empowered to make choices about their bodies and lives, they and their families thrive — and their societies thrive as well." This is also critical for women in crisis settings who often face human rights violations and denial of access to life-saving health services when needed. Humanitarian crises highlight the fragility of progress made on gender equality – with often dramatic increases in gender-based violence cases and obstacles in reaching groups left behind. It is, therefore, about time to stand hard against the structural and social determinants of health inequities in maternal and newborn health that reinforce harmful gender and social norms that promote inequality.


Today, it is important to remember that strengthening access to life-saving maternal and newborn care for people in humanitarian and fragile settings must be an ongoing effort that extends beyond this day. This requires a critical examination of how gender inequality adversely impacts maternal and newborn health outcomes everywhere, including in humanitarian settings. It also calls for a collective commitment to transforming health systems, policies, and structures that perpetuate harmful gender and social norms. When we prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights and access to essential services and information; enhance local capacities to deliver evidence-based and impact-oriented solutions; as well as promote positive social and gender norms that enhance gender equality everywhere – in both crises and non-crises situations, only then will we be able to move a step closer towards our collective goal of creating a world of infinite possibilities.


- Jihan Salad, Sexual and Reproductive Health Specialist, UNFPA Jordan

Jihan Salad, MSc is a Public Health specialist, with more than decade of international experience in the areas of Maternal & Reproductive Health, Youth Engagement,

Gender Equality and Humanitarian Response.

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