By Caroline Kinsella, Advocacy and Communications Intern, White Ribbon Alliance
One of the more hidden human rights abuses around the world is the fact that one billion people have no legal proof of identity. Alarmingly, UNICEF estimates that about one in four children under age 5, or 166 million, are unregistered and without any trace that they exist. Conversations about reducing global poverty and protecting the health and human rights of mothers and newborns must include the challenges of birth registration.
A single piece of paper has the power to transform a person’s future. Birth certificates are necessary to access government services, life-saving medical treatment, a nationality and age related legal protections. Legal proof of birth is often required to attend school and apply to higher education, as well as open a bank account and vote. Many of the individuals without a birth certificate today are children who were never registered at birth. In some cases, nobody knows for decades that a child does not have a birth certificate.
In Uganda, Senfuka Samuel, who goes by Sam, applied for a master’s degree program that required a birth certificate. As he did not have one, Sam had to venture to the hospital where he was born. There, he discovered that hospital records before the year 2000, including any proof of his birth, were destroyed in the civil war. Traveling hundreds of miles over two weeks, Sam spent his own money to first get issued a necessary ‘birth notification’ – a slip of paper with birth details handwritten by a midwife – to later gain a new legal birth certificate.
It was a sunny afternoon as most days are in Ethiopia in April. I was taking an individual tour of a large hospital in the middle of Addis Ababa where I got to talk to doctors, nurses, and see waiting rooms and even patients who were recovering from care.
I distinctly remember the room of women who had recently had abortions or were awaiting one. The room was eerily silent despite the number of patients in the large recovery room with few windows and no air conditioning. Personal effects were on all of the beds: blankets, purses, food, extra clothes . Some of the women had female visitors, others did not. While the Ethiopian abortion law on the books is considered “semi-liberal” by African standards, there is some pushback on abortion services although in practice if a woman wants an abortion she can most likely get one. This is mostly to help decrease maternal mortality rates and to curb the rates of unsafe abortions.
As I concluded my tour, the last room I saw was where the abortions took place with all of its machines and lone hospital bed. At that moment I was glad that despite the law, these Ethiopian medical professionals along with the hospital’s policy allowed women to have a choice about their own bodies and reproductive rights.
As is true with each new presidential administration the global health community hangs in the balance. According to KFF.org the US global health funding was set at $11 billion in FY 2019 and in 2020 the funding was significantly decreased. This funding goes towards programs in more than 70 countries for HIV, malaria, maternal and child health among other health challenges. But now with the Biden administration the global health imperative is back on the table with increased funding and a dedication to countries’ health. Here are four reasons why.
At the start of the last administration the lamentations were heard around the world about the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gage Rule, that cut overseas funding from advocating for the legalization of abortions, provide abortions, mention the word, or even refer women to health practionioners that provide safe, legal abortions. Biden has already revoked the Mexico City Policy, but according to Time magazine the Trump effect may take some time to undo.
The Trump administration also withdrew from the World Health Organization (WHO), something that seemed unfathomable, but was a stark wakeup call for the global health community. Biden stopped the United States’ official withdrawal from the WHO. This is important as the US provides significant funding for global health and by re-entering the worldwide health community, the US will help stabilize the global COVID-19 response.
Not only did the Trump administration withdraw from the World Health Organization, it also withdrew from The Paris Climate Agreement signed in 2015. Make no mistake, while the Agreement sets conditions and milestones for countries to reach to stave off and prevent further climate extremes it is very much a health agreement. Again, Biden rejoined The Paris Agreement, putting the United States back on a solid footing on climate change initiatives.
Biden’s nominee for administrator of USAID is Samantha Power. With years of global health and administration experience under her belt, Power is the former US ambassador to the United Nations under Obama. Additionally, Power served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council. Power will certainly raise the profile of USAID and usher a renewed sense of the United States’ responsibility to global health and security.
In the first few weeks of Biden’s administration there have been several notable changes in how the United States approaches global health. This is especially imperative with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging out of control with new variants and a backed-up vaccine rollout. Now, there is a plan in place not only for the United States, but also for global distribution of the vaccine where the vast majority of the vaccines have gone to high-income countries according to Duke Univeristy’s Global Health Instutute.
The United Nations has designated Sierra Leone as the most dangerous place to have a baby. In fact, it has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 1,360 deaths per 100,000 live births. On average, most women have at least six babies in Sierra Leone.
In a previous post I mentioned the Aminata Maternal Foundation that helps pregnant women in Sierra Leone. An Australian organization, it was started by a woman, Aminata Conteh-Biger, who became a sex slave during the Liberian Civil War. Now, she is giving back to expectant mothers after so many years away from her home country.
This video shows the work of the Aminata Maternal Foundation and how it oftentimes becomes difficult for young pregnant girls to receive permission from family and elders to deliver in a hospital or health center. It also shows the frustration of healthcare workers who try to teach entire villages about the importance of proper maternal healthcare.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
One of my favorite countries in the world is Ethiopia. I have had the pleasure of visiting four times traversing the north and south and find it gorgeous in so many regions. I cannot wait to go back one day to see all of its rapid changes.
Yesterday, civil servants, volunteers, and everyday people worked together in the Prime Minister’s Green Legacy effort to plant over 350 million diverse, indigenous trees in all regions across the country. The original goal was to plant 200 million trees. That was quickly exceeded by over 150 million more trees planted in 12 hours eclipsing India’s previous tree-planting record. Officials were charged with counting all planted seedlings throughout the country according to the BBC.
Having seen firsthand how Ethiopia has massively scaled their maternal healthcare across the country with frontline health workers it is no surprise this tree-planting effort was a record-setting success. The reforestation initiative was devised to tackle the increasing degradation and deforestation across Ethiopia. The overall goal is to plant two billion plants and is a countrywide effort to help reach Sustainable Development Goal 13 of taking urgent action against climate change.