Ian Askew, Director, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research, including UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Program for Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction
Gender equality is fundamental to guaranteeing the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health. At the 76th United Nations General Assembly last month, HRP was proud to contribute to an official WHO side event: Women, health and gender equality: engage, accelerate, scale up!
Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) were at the center of this inspiring session, continuing the momentum of the Generation Equality Forum. The full registration well worth your time, just like this 2 minute video animate WHO’s commitments drive change for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in all their diversity.
Recent international awareness days have shown some of these commitments in action.
At World Contraception Day, WHO highlighted both general public information and useful tools for healthcare workers, such as medical eligibility for contraceptive use (MEC) digital application. The app helps providers make sure that a contraceptive method is safe, effective, and acceptable for each client. At HRP, we also celebrated some of the research activities, achievements and partnerships over the past year that address barriers to contraceptive services and information around the world.
At International Safe Abortion Day WHO and HRP have celebrated global efforts to protect the continued provision of quality comprehensive abortion care, even as the pandemic continues to test the ability of health systems to provide essential services. We also shared the results of a multi-country research study with partners in 17 countries, highlighting the severity and clinical management of abortion-related complications. With so much to learn from each other, I urge you to consider joining the new community of practice on Comprehensive Abortion Care, hosted by HRP and the IBP Network.
Sexual health and well-being is a critical aspect of SRHR and a growing area of leadership and partnership for WHO and HRP. At World Sexual Health Day, and at 25e Congress of the World Association for Sexual HealthI was proud to say that a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relations is fundamental to the WHO working definition of sexual health. You can read about our current range of activities, including education, counseling and care related to sexuality, gender identity and sex, here.
Good sexual health is more than the absence of disease; but the prevention and management of disease, if it does occur, is an important part of the continuum of sexual health and well-being. Cervical cancer is a particularly pernicious disease associated with sexual activity, and it is important to note that a new update to the WHO guidelines for screening and treatment of precancerous lesions of the cervix is expected in November.
Cancer of the cervix is also a reflection of global inequalities: Almost 90% of deaths from cervical cancer in 2018 occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Persistent failures in equity, justice and accountability, in cervical cancer and in global health as a whole, were confronted at a recent WHO meeting event in honor of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks. Ms Lacks, a black American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951, paved the way for medical advancements, including the HPV vaccine, when a sample of her cells was taken without consent, marketed and distributed throughout the world after his death. This stimulating and moving conversation with Ms. Lacks’ family is essential viewing.
A recent milestone for WHO and HRP was the launch of the 6th edition of the laboratory manual for the examination and processing of human semen. Over the past 40 years, this manual has become an essential guide for laboratory examinations, widely translated and widely used by clinical and research laboratories around the world. The 6th Edition has been released following extensive review by experts and the public, and you can follow the dynamic launch even there. In the related – and equally anticipated – news, the infertility The guideline development group has met online over the past two months, and the WHO guidelines are expected next year.
Indeed, digital tools have been a crucial way to connect across much of our work this year. Last week, we hosted our expert group meeting online on developing guidelines for recommendations for induction of labor. The IBP Network and HRP Alliance also held their recent online partner meetings. It was wonderful to see so many faces and to feel so much support “in the room” to improve SRHR globally, through research and implementation.
The accelerated use of digital health interventions during the pandemic presents a special opportunity for children and adolescents under 18, which represent approximately 1 in 3 Internet users in the world. At International Day of the Girl, we shared some of the ways digital health solutions play a role in promoting girls’ empowerment and the realization of their human rights. Please use the data presented, including these excellent country profiles on adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
Last month on World Sepsis Day we highlighted the groundbreaking research, collaboration and advocacy of the WHO and HRP to prevent and treat maternal sepsis, which has a much greater impact on global maternal mortality and morbidity than previously thought previously. New research has also shown the importance impact on infants born to women infected during pregnancy.
For these reasons and more, we have been delighted to join many WHO departments in supporting this year’s program. World Patient Safety Day, focusing on safe maternal and newborn care. I spoke at the launch event with a key message to convey: good quality care is safe and respectful care.
It’s a message we repeated throughout the pandemic, and will continue to assert itself as the new era for safe and respectful childbirth. Involving women and reporting on their experiences in health systems is the first order of respect in a human rights approach to maternal and newborn care. Beyond the provision of clinical services, strategies to promote respectful care must also take into account gender, racial and power dynamics.
As Director-General of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says: When it comes to gender equality, we can and must do better.