By Dr. Foluso Ajani
“So much to Learn and Do, So Little Time”: This clearly captures the experience of a leading contributor to this blog and a maternal health advocate who participated in the recently concluded Women Deliver Conference. She shares with us her beautiful experience at the Conference.
The 3rd Women Deliver Global Conference took place on the 28th – 30th May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was highly anticipated and surpassed all expectations; a deeply collaborative effort from different sectors across the globe including Ministry of health, finance and development cooperation, parliament ,civil society organizations, global companies and the media .
Over 150 countries represented, more than 120 concurrent sessions, high level plenary, ministerial and parliamentarian fora, country caucus, exhibitions, side events, tech&tech, speaker’s and cinema corner etc. It was fully packed and totally engaging with a variety of sessions. Suffice it to say, it was a like a jar full of cookies that you had to make a selection from!
The first day of the conference started with a welcome speech from Jill Sheffield, President Women Deliver and the opening ceremony by the Prime Minister of Malaysia. I shuffled hurriedly to get a seat close to the podium, looked around the plenary hall and marvelled at the large number of participants from every corner of the globe. The Prime Minister, one of the youngest ever elected in Malaysia and a true champion for women reiterated that “global stability depends on the wellbeing of girls and women” and they should be “Priority not After-thoughts”.
I attended the plenary session “Investing in Girls” which explored continuing barriers and challenges faced by the girl child and featured first hand experiences with girls from different part of the world on what their needs and dreams were. It was illuminating to note what everyday survival meant to them and how much hope they had. About 21 concurrent sessions held at the same time, I went to catch up with Health systems strengthening, another topic I had a major interest in. Social Franchising, AHME(Africa Health Market for Equity) and Public Private Partnerships were delved into and it was interesting to note that 69% of health financing in Nigeria came from household/out of pocket payment. This is one reason why UHC is needed.
I am glad I attended The Presidential session on Women’s health. Addressing key issues with some level of humor, the panel provided a thought provoking, engaging and interesting session. The humorous exchange between Karl Hoffman, President PSI and Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA kept the audience in intermittent burst of rapturous laughter. When asked by Karl about his daughters after his talk on equality, Dr. Osotimehin replied emphatically that his 4 daughters were treated first as “human beings”. The audience’s applause was resounding.
Capping the highly rewarding day with a high level panel on “Enhancing Women & Girls Health in the Post 2015 developmental framework in which a host of Ministers of Health and Finance were speakers, I retired late to get a resounding sleep in readiness for the next day.
The subsequent day also brought a fully packed session. I was up very early to attend the Nigeria Country Caucus facilitated by Bridget Nwagbara of White Ribbon Alliance in which key issues on maternal, reproductive and child health were raised and a call to action on civil society engagement and accountability to be presented to the minister of state for health the following day was decided upon.
From the plenary to the concurrent sessions, it was highly engaging. I was particularly impressed with Halimatou Hima, a MPP Candidate at the Harvard John F.Kennedy School of Government who I had earlier met and had a brief discussion with. Her eloquence and easy delivery was commendable. I took some time out to check out the exhibition halls where every organisation you could think of was represented, network and get useful materials which were unlimited and in full display. The tech&tech, speaker’s and cinema corners were not left unexplored.
The last day came too quick and time seemed to have moved so fast. Hon. Dr. Mohammed Ali Pate graced the early morning country caucus and acknowledged the call to action while chipping in some important issues. I mentioned the issue of data generation and management which remains a problem in Nigeria during the challenges and solutions item.
After, I graced the “To the Point” Plenary and listened to Valerie Defillipo (Director FP2020)‘s Effective Advocacy for Universal access to contraception where she described her experience in a suburb in northern Nigeria. Mona Eltahawy ‘s passion on the price of defending freedom of expression was admirable. I was all but sucked in by her red hair (the thought of being a red head was fleeting).I happened to help a nice lady pick up her paper which dropped and on introduction turned out to be Nancy Pendarvis Harris, VP of John Snow Inc. I discovered the human library session and chose “the People’s Champion” who turned out to be Alias Masod, Adjunct Professor and President MyLeaD. We had an interesting discussion and I was better for it.
Interestingly, I dreamt I won one of the Mini-Ipads up for grabs at the Conference but I was shocked my name wasn’t announced. How did that happen? Worthy of mention is the feature of Dr. Biodun Awosusi’s write up in the Women Deliver Dream Book published by the Lancet!
It was a life changing experience, so much was learnt in so little time, more discoveries, better opportunities and improved commitments towards advancing Girls’ and Women’s Health. Leaving the conference, you had no doubt that there is no better time to deliver for girls & women other than NOW!