Women in Global Health Honors Seven Heroines of Health

Seven women are honored at the third Heroines of Health awards for their commitment and achievements in global health

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Geneva, Switzerland – May 19, 2019 - At the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, Women in Global Health, with support from Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic Foundation, Pathfinder International, and United Nations Foundation, celebrates and honors seven women for their commitment and achievements in global health at this year’s Heroines of Health awards.

Heroines of Health seeks to highlight women’s significant contribution to healthcare, as women continue to make up a comparatively small percentage of global health leadership, despite holding 70 percent of jobs in global healthcare and contribute nearly $3 trillion to the health and social sector. Far too often the life-saving contributions of women leaders in health go unrecognized and their inspiring stories stay untold.

The World Health Organization, as well as Ministries of Health, particularly in developing markets, are looking to achieve universal health coverage through strengthening community health. These awards from Women in Global Health aim to recognize the real, grassroots impact that women have on healthcare in their communities. Women are the leaders and drivers of health in their communities, and without them, universal health coverage (UHC) will not be possible.

“Placing communities at the heart of Universal Health Coverage will only be achieved if we invest in women in health. Women are the leaders of health in their communities. We are thrilled to recognize frontline Heroines of Health who are leading the way for community health through their unwavering commitment to taken on the toughest health challenges,” said Roopa Dhatt, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Women in Global Health. “However, we cannot stop at recognizing these women. We must invest in them and millions more to fill the projected 40 million health sector jobs that are needed by 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Profile-raising of female leaders in global health is a key priority of Women in Global Health and our partners. Leading women like the Heroines of Health have a tremendous impact on shaping the future of global health and deserve to be heard. Recognizing these remarkable women and their achievements will drive necessary change for gender equity matters and positively influence local, regional, and global health policies related to UHC. Aligned with the global health community’s shared commitment to UHC, these extraordinary women are advancing health for all through dedicated efforts to strengthen community health and/or the community health workforce.

The honorees and their work:

Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng - As the Minister of Health in Uganda, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng’s has long championed the improvement of community health outcomes as a key ingredient for universal health coverage. Prior to becoming the Minister of Health, Dr. Aceng was the Director of General Health Services, promoting community health with this national platform. Currently, Dr. Aceng is also assessing the Village Health Team (VHT) Program, where she applies evidence-based practices to drive policy change and influence health outcomes. Her involvement in high-level meetings, advocacy, and technical conventions have demonstrated Uganda’s continued commitment to primary health care. These cumulative efforts give Dr. Aceng a solid plan of tackling healthcare from both research and clinical perspectives to ensure that no one is left behind.

Sandra Oyarzo Torres - A midwife for 27 years, Ms. Oyarzo Torres has dedicated herself to primary health care (PHC) and UHC through her work with communities across Latin and Central America, advocating for sexual and reproductive health rights and championing gender equality. As a teacher, educationalist, and advocate for sexual and reproductive rights, Ms. Oyarzo Torres has trained thousands of midwives and developed curricula that focus on centering communities and working in low-resource settings. She has also paved the way for midwifery regulation in Latin America. As the President of the Association of Midwives of Chile, Ms. Oyarzo Torres advocated to defend women’s right to access legal abortion in three circumstances (pregnancy by rape, foetal infeasibility, and risk to mother’s life), and contributed to policy and legislation changes in Mexico for midwifery regulation. She believes that being a midwife is the highest honor, as she can accompany other women during an incredible life experience. Ms. Oyarzo Torres stays true to her passion: empowering women to make their own choices about their bodies and their lives.

Dr. Farzana Ibrahim - Dr. Farzana Ibrahim is one of the first female reconstructive plastic surgeons in Bangladesh, and received her MBBS from Bangladesh Medical College with residencies in both general and plastic surgery at Dhaka Medical College Hospital. As a young medical intern in Dhaka, Dr. Ibrahim saw one patient that changed the course of her life: a female professor at a local university with advanced breast cancer, who did not feel comfortable with being examined by a male doctor due to societal backlash. Saddened and alarmed, Dr. Ibrahim decided to devote her career to removing the socio-cultural barriers that prevented women from receiving the compassionate care they needed. Today, she is the assistant professor, associate director, and plastic surgeon at the Bangladesh Institute of Research and Rehabilitation in Diabetes, Endocrine, and Metabolic Disorders (BIRDEM) General Hospital, an institution established by her grandfather. Since 2006, Dr. Ibrahim has been a partner surgeon for ReSurge International, providing free reconstructive surgery for women who cannot pay for services. As one of the 2018 Pioneering Women of Reconstructive Surgery Leadership Program, Dr. Ibrahim continues her grandfather’s legacy in providing care for all.

Albertha Freeman - Ms. Freeman was inspired to study nursing by her desire to serve her fellow Liberians. After graduating from her nursing degree with honors, Ms. Freeman admirably chose a difficult position as her first assignment—to serve as a Community Health Services Supervisor (CHSS), the nurse cadre that oversees community health workers in Liberia’s national community health program. In her role as a CHSS, she strengthens and supports Liberia’s critical health workforce through mentoring, coaching, and supervising community health workers (CHWs), who provide PHC services to the most vulnerable populations in the country. Her supportive supervision allows the CHWs to thrive and ultimately advance Liberia’s UHC aims. Ms. Freeman's work is both challenging and fulfilling—she chose this position to gain insight on how patients behave in their communities before coming to the clinic. This intimate knowledge and connection to the community enables her to better provide healthcare, focusing on promoting health behaviors and preventative services at the community level and thus strengthening the continuum of care at the facility level.

Stéphanie Roche - As the head of the maternity unit in Marigot, Haiti, midwife Stéphanie Roche’s success in preventing maternal mortality is well known throughout the Marigot area. Initially a nurse, Ms. Roche chose become a midwife in 2011 in order to evolve in a specific field by drawing on her ability and knowledge to serve women, known as “poto mitan," or the central pillars in Haitian society, in their day-to-day lives. Her rigor, dexterity, and passion propelled her to be responsible for the Marigot maternity unit. Ms. Roche believes that the midwifery profession is unique. In her daily work, She strives to ensure the best care for pregnant women and women of childbearing age, provide medical and psychological support to pregnant women, and conduct sensitization sessions for community health workers. Ms. Roche believes that by bringing together similar contributions from other health professionals who share this same ideals, Haiti and other countries will be able to make a leap forward in health for the benefit of women and newborns.

Dr. Fiona Sampson - Combating impunity and strengthening accountability is personal for Dr. Fiona Sampson. Born a thalidomide victim, Dr. Sampson developed an early appreciation of battling stigmatization, discrimination, and inequality. Her personal experiences inform her daily work as a human rights lawyer with a PhD in women’s equality law and a highly respected advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual violence in Canada and abroad. Dr. Sampson is the founder and CEO of Equality Effect, an international network of human rights advocates working collaboratively to ensure governments in Commonwealth countries uphold, enforce, and protect the rights of women and girls. She is most known for leading Equality Effect’s “160 Girls Project," a ground-breaking initiative that won a landmark legal victory in Kenya’s High Court in 2013, when Kenyan law enforcement officials were ordered to investigate and prosecute 160 rapes. In June 2017, the United Nations recognized the Equality Effect’s "160 Girls Project" as a best practice to advance women’s rights and women’s empowerment. Dr. Sampson hopes to not only draw attention to the rampant and often silent sexual violence epidemic, but also to emphasize the crucial connection between health, rape, and the law.

Dr. Jeanne Tessougué - With more than thirteen years of experience in strengthening health systems, Dr. Jeanne Tessougué plays a critical role in advancing both UHC and gender equality by aligning health workers with health systems. She is currently the chief of party of IntraHealth's USAID/Mali Human Resources for Health Strengthening Activity. Her work focuses on managing the implementation, design, and monitoring and evaluation of health programs using a participatory community approach to reduce maternal, newborn, and infant mortality. Before joining IntraHealth, Dr. Tessougué was the director of the Sexual/ Reproductive Health and Family Planning Department at Population Services International-Mali and previously worked for the University of Montreal Department of Public Health on maternal death audits at the community and district level. She has worked with SamuSocial International on the rehabilitation of street children and youth and with UNFPA as a Reproductive Health/ Family Planning Manager. Dr. Tessougué applies health economics knowledge to advocating for human resources allocation in health. Her support for civil engagement and public-private partnerships promotes integrated family planning and reproductive health services in both rural and urban environments. With these awards, Women in Global Health and our partners aim to celebrate the contributions of women leaders in global health, whose work is championing better health in their communities. We worked closely with our partner organizations to identify women who have made an impact in categories listed above. This list is by no means comprehensive and we are aware that there are many more women out there making great achievements and advances to improve global healthcare at all ends of the spectrum. The focus of this honor is telling the stories of those women who are making an impact at the local, grassroots level and in traditionally underrepresented communities.

About Women in Global Health:

Established in 2015, Women in Global Health (WGH) is an organization built on a global movement that brings together all genders and backgrounds to achieve gender equality in global health leadership. We believe that everyone has the right to attain equal levels of participation in leadership and decision-making regardless of gender. WGH creates a platform for discussions and collaborative space for leadership, facilitates specific education and training, garners support and commitment from the global community, and demands change for Gender Transformative Leadership.