By Kate Bundra Roux
Despite enormous progress in global health, there are many remaining gaps in accessing health resources and services. These disparities are affecting the life and future of women, children, and other vulnerable groups around the world every day.
The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has made it a priority at the 31st International Conference to address barriers to health care. The Movement believes that strengthening individual and community resilience requires that barriers to health equity be dismantled - and that it can be achieved.
During the conference, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), together with several national Red Cross Red Crescent societies hosted a commission on 29 November called 'Eliminating health inequities'. It was also an opportunity to launch the joint report produced by the IFRC and World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health.
The report and the commission both set out to learn from existing Red Cross Red Crescent health activities, and make efforts to strengthen Movement action to meet health disparities, especially for women and children. They also stress that states and the Movement should utilize the Red Cross Red Crescent volunteer network to access the most hard-to-reach populations.
The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has been working in the provision of health care and emergency aid for decades around the globe. As highlighted in the report, it advocates on behalf of the most vulnerable – including those who face the greatest challenges in accessing the resources and conditions necessay for good health. This long experience demonstrates that health inequities are closely linked with other issues such as poverty, gender equality and human rights. These, in turn, have an impact on education, health, agriculture, and many other areas of the community.
The commission provided a platform to share the Movement's valuable first-hand experiences, with National Societies of Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt and Canada highlighting successful examples of their work. The Canadian Red Cross Society, for example, has invested over 70 million dollars in maternal, newborn and child health projects in 20 countries with the financial support of the government. These projects reached over 12 million direct beneficiaries, and 40 million indirectly by training over 40,000 health workers.
Women and children are a particular focus because they are a gateway to improving population health, economic growth and development in every country. As one panel member stated from the WHO’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, "You strike a woman, you strike a rock; you empower the woman, you empower the heart of the family; you heal the woman and you heal the entire community."