Kenya – “Africa Can And Will Change The World. We Are In The Unprecedented Position To Be An Inspiration Of What Can Be Done Right” – Toyin Ojora Saraki At Africa Health Agenda International Conference, Nairobi, Kenya.
This week, in marking International Women's Day (IWD), the Founder-President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA), Mrs. Toyin Saraki, joined the First Ladies of Malawi and Kenya, Mrs Mutharika and Mrs Kenyatta, respectively, as Amref's Special Guest Of Honour at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) in Nairobi, Kenya. The Conference, which was opened by the First Ladies of Malawi and Kenya, was attended by multi-sector high-level delegates from over 29 African nations, and was closed by Nigeria's Toyin Saraki, Wife of the President of the Senate, and Founder-President of The Wellbeing Foundation Africa, brought together researchers, policymakers, the private sector, and practitioners and advocates from the health, civil society, and development sectors, to reflect on home-grown solutions to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across the continent.
As a panelist at AHAIC 2017, Mrs. Saraki was asked how Africa is accelerating the implementation of the SDGs. In her usual optimistic yet realistic self, she asserted:
"Africa has enjoyed a somewhat greater focus and interest, for quick and sustained progress on the SDGs, as progress on this continent means progress for the world. Also, Africa is riding on the robust presence of the private sector on the continent, and this has helped spur projects and improved outcomes in health, education, agriculture and social entrepreneurship. Specifically, regarding health, the continent has benefitted from country-supported interventions, especially around the supply side of healthcare and health systems."
"Through Agenda 2063, a fifty-year development action plan adopted by all members of the African Union, continent-wide priorities have already been defined. This should make the process of integrating and achieving SDGs into countries' development plans much easier. There is a high degree of convergence between the SDGs and Agenda 2063, in part due to the Common African Position (CAP), the coordinated Africa-wide negotiating position that preceded formulation of the Global Goals. "
"Absolute poverty has declined on the continent, taking Africa one step closer to the fulfillment of the SDGs. However, the gap between rich and poor countries has grown. This is disheartening; yet, it provides a vast opportunity for developing countries, as it demonstrates that the medicine, technology, and knowledge needed for development already exist. If these things can be transferred to developing nations, we can accelerate the attainment of the SDGs. Through cooperation between domestic and international agencies, greater access to the basic commodities of the developed world can be made available to the benefit of Africa and the world. The knowledge is already there; we now need to take that knowledge and turn it into tangible results on the African continent.”
Mrs Saraki, who serves as Global Goodwill Ambassador of the International Confederation Of Midwives (ICM), also spoke about women and adolescent health and education. She stated that: "We must provide education to girls and young women about sexual and reproductive health. This is clearly outlined in SDG 3. We must also ensure there is universal access to family planning information and education. Across Africa, we must make this a priority by integrating this into national strategies and programmes. Misinformation on sexual health and family planning combined with traditional attitudes towards childbirth and fertility lead to a range of complications, including during pregnancy and childbirth. Many of these could be prevented with the provision of basic education on sexual and reproductive health. In the absence of a formal education, local customs inform maternal health practices, often with fatal consequences. Even a basic understanding of hygiene, nutrition and child spacing could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year, and therefore should be made a priority in healthcare, and in the fulfillment of the SDGs as a whole."
"Secondly, we need to increase coverage of midwives in Africa; it is known that a 25% increase in the number of midwives could reduce maternal mortality by 50%. We know from the evidence from our frontline programmes at WBFA, that increasing the number of midwives has overwhelmingly positive outcomes for pregnant women. My organization has been working to educate midwives and community healthcare workers across Nigeria, teaching them to save mothers’ and children's lives, and also how to detect domestic violence and female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C)."
"We must address FGM/C urgently: Victims of FGM/C are at a hugely elevated risk of suffering a vaginal fistula, as well as being at higher risk of domestic and gender violence. Additionally, a woman who is subjected to FGM/C is more likely to be married off as a child bride. Not only is child marriage a violation of a girl's rights, but girls who give birth before the age of 15 years are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 30s. "
To end the panel discussion, Mrs. Saraki spoke about her hopes for change: "My dream is that every citizen is counted at birth. My dream is that every citizen is registered at birth. My dream is that every citizen is protected from vulnerability and has access to Primary Health!"
The Wellbeing Foundation Africa's #MaternalMonday Media Campaign was formally accepted into the Africa Health Accountability Project and Africa Health Media Accountability Network, both launched at the conference, while Mrs. Saraki, who was selected by AHAICYouth, to feature in the Youth Town Hall brainstorming session, along with Edwin Macharia, Kenya CEO of prestigious Dalberg Consultants, ended the conference with a stirring closing keynote address, stating that “Africa Can And Will Change The World, We Are In The Unprecedented Position To Be An Inspiration Of What Can Be Done Right”.
Mrs Saraki also received the youth communique, the female genital mutilation call to action from Amref's Alternative Rite Of Passage Masai Girl Advocates, to support the rights of girls and women to be bold for change. She also received a special award of recognition from the organisers of the Conference, alongside Kenya's Minister For Health, Nairobi's Secretary For Health, and the Global Board Chair of Amref, in a colourful ceremony anchored by media personality, Caroline Mutoko.