Making a world of difference to women’s health in Africa – Focus on World Contraception Day and access to healthcare for women
October 2021 – The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals1 – with the aspiration to “leave no one behind” – recognise gender equity and women’s health as central to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. But implementing the goals is difficult in most countries on the African continent due to the high disease burden and increasing levels of gender inequality.
New in South Africa, Organon, the only global company of its size focused on women’s health, aims to address the pressing healthcare issues facing women in the Sub-Saharan region, and to significantly improve their health.
“We are working with partners across Africa to address women’s health issues including the taboos around menstruation and family planning,” says Dr Abofele Khoele, Organon Sub-Saharan Africa Managing Director. As we commemorated World Contraception Day on 26th September this year, the need for contraception education must be highlighted and at the forefront of the journey to gender equity and women’s right to choose. “The burden of unintended pregnancies has an enormous impact on women’s lives, and education plays a critical role in empowering them to make decisions about family planning. In addition, Africa’s population is the fastest growing in the world, which is challenging development efforts on the continent and leading to a greater strain on resources.”
“Organon works with funders globally to support countries that are part of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) on a medium- to long-term financing agreement,” says Mokgadi Mashishi, Business Unit Director, Institutional Business Africa (IBA). “We support an access program to family planning products as well as initiatives that aim to empower women and make it easier for them to access family planning services, while always remaining sensitive to cultural and gender issues. We are continuously exploring ways to partner with key stakeholders to expand our offering and to improve healthcare systems that ensure a positive impact on women’s health.”
Successful support programmes include training on contraceptive implant insertion and removal for 20 000 health extension workers in Ethiopia, representing 50% of the total number of health extension workers in that country. The project is implemented through the Midwife Association, Ethiopian Public Health Associations and Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia with the recommendation of the Ministry of Health.
Mashishi says the programmes which Organon partners on are crucial for women’s health and empowerment. “They give women the opportunity to exercise their right to choose. In some instances, the identified need is to address teenage pregnancy or child spacing for families. By allowing access to family planning solutions and information, we are not only contributing to reducing unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality, but we are also affording women the opportunity to pursue their dreams, resulting in positive outcomes for women, their families and communities.”
The United Nations Population Fund says Africa will be the biggest contributor to population growth by 2050. “We cannot afford not to be involved,” Mashishi says. “We need to ask ourselves: how do we empower young girls and young boys to make the right choices when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, and how do we engage couples on family planning education. Sexual health and contraception should not be taboo subjects. This requires collaboration between parents, communities, schools, policy makers, private and public sectors, government authorities and other key decision-makers. It’s a multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder issue that requires a holistic approach.”
Worldwide, women’s life expectancy is on average 75.6 years while in the Sub-Saharan region, it is significantly lower.2 The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the weaknesses of public healthcare systems and the low budget allocation to healthcare.3
During the seven-year period before the South Africa Demographic Health Survey (SADHS) 2016, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 536 deaths per 100 000 live births.4 While South Africa has made significant progress with regard to the improvement of maternal health and the reduction of maternal mortality in the last two decades, most maternal deaths are preventable.4
Unequal burden of care
COVID-19 has impacted access to family planning services due to lockdowns and fear of visiting healthcare facilities. In addition, COVID-19 has also increased the unequal burden of care carried by women, causing more women than men to leave the labour market during the pandemic5. PwC’s Women in Work Index 2021 states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted hundreds of thousands of women’s lives, as well as putting a damper on years of progress around gender equality. This is largely due to the economic sectors that women work in, which have little incentives and protective measures when it comes to unemployment.” In addition, the report says, “During COVID-19, women have taken on an even greater share and now spend 7.7 more hours per week on unpaid childcare than men – this ‘second shift’ now equates to 31.5 hours per week; almost as much an extra full-time job.”
“Under these circumstances, we need innovative programmes to address the specific healthcare needs of women in Africa, and to reduce inequity in access to healthcare,” says Khoele. “South African law guarantees access to sexual and reproductive health services, but there is a need for access to effective contraceptive services in a private, non-judgemental and gender sensitive setting. Our core expertise is in reproductive health, with a focus on contraception and fertility, and a commitment to expand into areas that address other diseases and conditions that impact a woman’s health throughout her life.”
Organon has more than 60 established medicines and solutions across a range of areas including reproductive health, heart disease, breast cancer, allergies and asthma, and serves women in more than 140 markets around the world.
“The diversity of our business provides a sustainable engine for growth so we can continue to invest in and advance new medicines and solutions for women that are so urgently needed,” he adds “We believe the journey to improve women’s health is critical to achieving a healthier world. Our people – a global community thousands strong – are united in our drive to better support the health of women within our company and around the globe.”
To learn more about Organon, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/company/organonsouthafrica
- United Nations. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Sustainable Development, The 17 Goals. Available from: https://sdgs.un.org/goals.
- Worldometers. Life expectancy of the world population. 2020;1,11. Available from: https://www.worldometers.info/demographics/life-expectancy/.
- Human Rights Watch, Africa: COVID-19 exposes healthcare shortfalls. Available from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/08/africa-covid-19-exposes-healthcare-shortfalls.
- Stats SA. Maternal healthcare in SA shows signs of improvement. Available from: http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=13102.
- PwC. Women in Work Index 2021. Available from: https://www.pwc.co.za/en/press-room/women-in-work-index-2021.html.