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Message from Director SRH/HRP

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Ian Askew, Director, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research including UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction


Finding ways to connect with each other has felt more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, as public health measures ask us to maintain physical distance where possible. 

Our work at HRP over the last few months has shown, despite the challenges, just how much collaboration, creativity, research and meaningful connection our community is capable of. We are so proud to continue our work with you on such a broad range of sexual and reproductive health and rights issues – across disciplines, platforms and generations.  

A good place to start this month’s newsletter is with the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. HRP is working with WHO and a wide range of partners to celebrate progress made on this ambitious framework for realizing the human rights of all women and girls. We are also committed to highlighting challenges, gaps, and concrete actions needed to advance health equity and gender equality: now, and in a post-COVID-19 world. Please do spend some time reading “Women’s Health and Gender Inequalities,” a special series of papers commissioned by The British Medical Journal (BMJ) with support from HRP, WHO and the UNU-IIGH. 

No matter where you live, there are unique health needs which digital technologies can help to meet. The Digital implementation investment guide: integrating digital interventions into health systems, (also known as the DIIG), launched early in October, is a landmark publication from WHO, HRP and many other partners. It supports step-by-step planning, costing and implementing of digital health investments. 

Digital technologies have of course played a bigger role in many of our lives over the last few months, but this was already the case for many adolescents and young people, who are accessing the internet at earlier stages of life.  Youth-centred digital health interventions, another WHO, HRP and partner-led digital health publication launched last month, has a very clear message for all of us: when designing effective digital health solutions for young people, young people should be making decisions at every stage of the design process. 

The fundamental importance of quality of care for every pregnant woman and newborn is another message repeated and received loud and clear across HRP’s work. This month, the WHO ACTION-I trial resolved an ongoing controversy about the efficacy of antenatal steroids for improving preterm newborn survival in low-income countries, showing a significant impact: for every 25 pregnant women treated with dexamethasone,  one premature baby’s life was saved.  

Such data can and must inform our global approach to improving maternal and newborn health. For premature babies, the ACTION trial shows that pregnancy dating and quality care, combined with the steroids, are key to survival. Similarly, data from the recent  Global Maternal Sepsis Study (GLOSS)  – which showed that infection has a much larger impact on global maternal mortality and morbidity than previously thought – is an opportunity to mobilize, improve evidence-based practice, and save lives.  

Understanding more about the specific impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their babies is an ongoing priority at HRP. We are helping to lead a ‘living systematic review’ into clinical manifestations, risk factors, and maternal and perinatal outcomes of COVID-19 in pregnancy.  New findings were recently published, and this global research will continue to collect and synthesize data, as more is learned.  

As we move forward in one area, it is equally important not to slip back in others. COVID-19 clearly threatens recent gains in women’s and adolescent’s health, rights and gender equality.  

HRP is now collaborating with several partners to prevent unsafe abortion and support women’s and girls’ health, well-being and rights in the context of the current pandemic We recently launched the updated  Companion of choice during labour and childbirth for improved quality of care alongside the WHO Clinical management of COVID-19: interim guidance, emphasizing that the pandemic is no exception to every woman’s right to high-quality, respectful maternity care – including labour companionship.  

With all this in mind, the final word this month belongs to Rea, a 17-year old advocate from Kosovo who took part in the virtual intergenerational dialogue WHO and HRP co-organized on the International Day of The Girl. Organised around the 2020 theme of “My voice, our equal future,” the event was a striking call to recognize girls’ inheritance of the still-unfinished Beijing Agenda, their expertise on the challenges they face especially for their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and their limitless capacity as change-makers.  

As Rea said, “While there are girls and young women reaching out for the stars and opening doors and opportunities, there are still a lot of doors that need keys to be opened.”     

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Read the original article at WHO website

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