Monday 28th May is International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Riders for Health have demanded that the world commit to making sure health care reaches the women who need it, or risk more unnecessary deaths. Click here to find out more.
While the 21st century has ushered in more recognition of women’s rights and female empowerment, many women have yet to take full advantage of these opportunities. Most women in my part of the world are still constrained to taking care of the household. The tasks involved in this huge responsibility include answering to the needs of everyone in the family; the children, the old, the sick. And, of course perhaps the most important task of all, one that only a woman can perform; child bearing.
Women are responsible for taking the sick to where they can get health care. In rural Africa the nearest health facility can be up to a day’s walk away. They use public transport (where available and if they can afford it), donkey carts, or simply walking with the sick or carrying them on their backs.
When the female carer is sick, yet another woman takes care of her. The domestic responsibilities and family pressures that are placed on women are overwhelming and stressful. This can adversely affect their health and, without easy access to health care, this can put their lives – and the lives of those who depend on them – at risk.
Happily, recent government policy in the Gambia on transport for health care delivery is helping to alleviate the burden placed on women.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for providing health care services to everyone living in the country. Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, the Gambia has a largely rural population so the Ministry does this primarily through outreach clinics. Instead of making people come to centralised health facilities, health workers travel out to communities to provide preventative and curative health services locally.
Approximately 60% of all pregnant women and infants are seen at outreach clinics where antenatal care and immunisations are carried out. Therefore, it is crucial that health workers have the means to reach rural communities on a regular basis.
What’s more, if a woman goes into critical labour and cannot be treated at an outreach clinic, she must be taken by ambulance to a district health centre or hospital. For both outreach care and emergency referrals, well-managed, reliable transport is key.
Cognisant of the important role that transport plays in the health delivery system, the Gambian Ministry of Health has entered into a partnership with Riders for Health. The partnership means that a fleet of motorcycles and ambulances are always available throughout the country to help deliver health care services to everyone, no matter where they live.
As a result, women do not have to walk long distances in search of health care for themselves or for their families anymore. On International Day of Action for Women’s Health, I am proud that we are helping improve women’s access to health care in the Gambia, and I call on countries across Africa to do the same.