Achieving Equality

Topic: Achieving Equality for Women’s Health and Beyond

Hello, I am Claire Bertschinger, currently the Director of the globally renowned Professional Diploma in Tropical Nursing (PDTN) at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Before that, I worked for many years with the International Committee of the Red Cross, nursing in many different countries, mainly in war zones and famine-affected areas.

Even as a little girl I wanted to be a nurse. I was not academic but rather, I was a practical child who loved helping my mother, especially while she was looking after my brothers and sisters as well as other children during the school holidays. I was further inspired when I watched The Inn of the Sixth Happiness where the central character – Gladys Aylward – used her tenacity and determination to overcome her educational shortfalls.

It was never a smooth journey and academically I have always struggled but I went for my dream and here I am! I can hardly believe all the amazing experiences I have had and the fortunate position I now find myself in.

Nursing is now more than ever, based upon scientific research. It is important to understand the context in which the nurses work and the rationale for their actions and interventions, which often encompass the many technological advancements which have in turn vastly improved nursing/patient outcomes.

Therefore, it is essential that the modern-day nurse is well educated – to degree level and beyond. Unfortunately, in many parts of the globe, there are insufficient opportunities for nurses to attain these levels of education.

As for my role at LSHTM, with the advent of COVID-19 last year, we transferred the PDTN to online delivery and we now have hundreds of applicants from around the world. I cannot believe I am telling you something good that has come out of the pandemic!

I am pleased to say that I do see progress, albeit often slow. Technological advancement is often evident – as I saw on my last visit to Ethiopia – but this is not always matched by societal and cultural advancements.

I do have to say, however, that one of the biggest issues in poor areas of LMICs is the lack of investment in, and access to, healthcare which adversely impacts on all but particularly on women and girls. There are many contributory factors, such as perhaps distance from a health care center, the cost, and availability of medicines, or the dominant patriarchal systems that do not prioritize women’s health.

Gender inequality and discrimination remain widespread (and not just in LMICs) and continues to put the health and well-being of women and girls at risk. The barriers are many and variable. Women often have restricted mobility and are often not allowed to make autonomous decisions. Their lower social status in some societies makes it difficult to initiate change, especially in fragile states or areas of extreme poverty.

Topic Discussed: Achieving Equality for Women’s Health and Beyond

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