My Speech to the GHC Uganda Community – 19th July 2014

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I knew I wanted to work with computers from as early as Senior 2, and I wasn’t contented with pioneering the computer club at my high school. Out of University my first job was far from computers, it was with children, orphaned children. They were singing their way to donations, inspiring people from other continents to provide for their needs. Those were the first seeds sowed against social injustice.

I was raised as a middle child, indeed my mother confessed to remembering me long when my diaper was leaking. Single mother, a house wife, I grew up in 7 suburbs in this city, and never in our own home. Those were the second seeds of consciousness to social injustice.

When I stopped looking after children, I was opened up to the world of health information systems – there I saw numbers. 327 HIV positive mothers; 45 malaria cases; any number you can name, we probably have a health statistic for it. On a computer screen, they are numbers, but in the field, they are people. Children, Mothers, Fathers – wasting away because there are no drugs; alas, there are no medical professionals to attend to them.

Now I couldn’t go back – it was not just a 3rd seed sown, it was time to be part of the solution.

We know that for people like me, ICT professionals, opportunities for us are scarce because our backgrounds are outside of healthcare. How do I use my unique skills in global health? At the same time, for those who work in traditional health fields, a lack of community with people (and professions) like mine limits collaboration, knowledge sharing and support.

GHC believes that a global movement of individuals and organizations fighting for improved health outcomes and access to healthcare for the poor is necessary in order to change the unacceptable status quo of extreme inequity.

GHC provides opportunities for young professionals from diverse backgrounds to work on the frontlines of the fight for global health equity.

In 2008, the Ministry of Health estimated that abortion-related causes accounted for 26% of all maternal mortality. This proportion is considerably higher than the World Health Organization’s estimate for Eastern Africa (18%)

In 2011, Uganda had a maternal mortality ratio of 438 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births—well above the average of 240 per 100,000 among all developing countries. Many of these were unsafe abortions. [1]According to a survey of 1,338 women who received post-abortion care at 27 health facilities, on average, Ugandan women paid 59,600 shillings (US$23) for their abortion procedure and any treatment received prior to arriving at a health facility.

If you have lived in this city most recently, you may be familiar with civil servants who “erroneously” earn 96 million shillings a month (that’s about: $35500/mo; $222/hr), and you may have heard that our development partners are redirecting aid, and in some cases it will make the difference between a pregnant mother being tested for HIV and placed on option B+ or not… literary affecting our national dream for an HIV free generation.

[2]In 2012, an estimated 168,000 women in Sub-Saharan Africa died from pregnancy and birth-related causes; 62,000 of these women did not want to become pregnant in the first place. Fully meeting all need for modern contraceptive methods would have prevented 48,000 of these deaths—a 29% decline in maternal mortality.

[3]Every shilling spent on family planning/Contraception will save more than 6 shillings in post-abortion care services averted. The cost of providing contraception in Uganda for one year has been estimated at around UGX 57200/= per user, while the overall cost per case for treating post-abortion complications is UGX 340,600/=.

 96 million shillings would provide 1678 Ugandan women a year’s needs for contraception. What else can it do now?

[The entire stipend needed for all of us 65 fellows this month!]

In this room, there are young professionals from all walks of life. You are here because you decided to be available for the Global health Movement. Something tagged at your heart and you answered the call. I challenge you, stay at your post. Remain present, remain engaged, and remain plugged. It is young people like you who are going to make a difference in the way we think about the future of this continent.

There are also partners, and the organizations where new fellows are going to be placed – you have made available room and board, time and space to tap into the passion in this room. I urge you, open up more doors; there are a lot of young unemployed (and indeed unchallenged) graduates who are willing to get their hands dirty. GHC has proved it, because the growth remains visible, next year, there will be more than 150 fellows!

Where do we go from here? This is Step #6 in how GHC Works: Fellows collaborate, Grow as leaders, Deepen Impact BEYOND the fellowship year.

Let’s see, my good friend Edward heads to Mbale to serve local communities with microfinance, as the country director for Spark MicroGrants; Cassandra has left Kyangwali Refugee community for medical school in the US – she’ll become a doctor soon enough. Brian? I will lead a team of ICT professionals – you can guess how they will turn out in a year – Global Health advocates! Many of us are going to do different things.

But oh how we are changed. How the fellowship has given us new eyes, I will never look at a health stat and not imagine the people represented; I will never lose consciousness of the health challenges of my community. I have not just grown professionally – learning what PMTCT is and the technical language around HIV and AIDS, I have also been intellectually stretched, when debating interventions for young people, and debating with my class about aid cuts and their impact on health. These discussions have made me grow, but perhaps more profoundly, I now question my own values, ethics, and motivations for engaging in this movement.

Joan, go and be a star! Brian, one year from now, you will be more than just a world changer. Sam, there is room for ICT professionals like you and me in the movement for Global Health Equity!

You and I, all of us have got to remember, we are part of a global community of emerging leaders to build the movement for health equity. We are building a community of change-makers who share a common belief: Health is a human right.

Once a Fellow, always a fellow!

Thank you.

 

[1]Sundaram A et al., Documenting the individual- and household-level cost of unsafe abortion in Uganda, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2013, 39(4):174–184

[2] Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services—Estimates for 2012, New York: Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund, 2012.

[3] Vlassoff M et al., The health system cost of post-abortion care in Uganda, Health Policy and Planning, 2014, Vol. 29, pp. 56–66

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