The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 5 on Gender equality and SDG 10 inequalities are critically interlinked social determinants that have the potential to reverse health gains or even halt progress towards universal health coverage. The global COVID-19 response remains a sober reminder to make gender equality an integral aspect of national health preparedness and responses, in order to address deep-rooted barriers that reinforce and exacerbate health inequities.
In Ghana, gender equality and equity are important commitments in national health policies, including many other multi-sectoral policies. At the height of COVID-19, Ghana’s Strategic Response Plan emphasized the need to ensure equitable access to health services for all, who will need them.
In line with the agenda to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls, while reducing health and social inequality to leave no one behind, the World Health Organization (WHO) with the support of the Government of Canada is addressing the capacity and competency needs of stakeholders for more integrated and strong gender responsiveness in health intervention design, implementation, and evaluation.
As part of the project, “Strengthening local and national Primary Health Care (PHC) and Health Systems for the recovery and resilience of countries in the context of COVID-19” supported by the Government of Canada, WHO initiated as a first step, a series of capacity building training to enhance the knowledge, skills and competencies of stakeholders on gender. The training sought to leverage evidence-informed approaches to integrate gender in PHC and health systems, undertake health inequality monitoring and development of action plans to advance gender, equity, and rights to improve essential health services.
“It is often said, gender equality is everyone’s business. To achieve SDG 3, we need to be equipped to support national partners to ensure health programmes and services deliver for everyone, especially, women, girls and vulnerable groups most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic” said the WHO Representative in Ghana, Dr Francis Kasolo.
The initiative sought to improve the ability of Ministries of Health and their implementing agencies, including the health workforce to address needs and gaps to ensure the continuation of essential services that are equity-oriented and gender-responsive.
Already, the intervention by WHO is yielding some positive results that can be built upon to sustain the collective responsibility of ensuring policies, programmes and interventions are equitable and responsive to people’s needs, interests, health risks and vulnerability.
It has succeeded in enhancing the capacity of over 130 participants, from the WHO and government health institutions. They comprised physicians and clinicians, programme and policy planners, health information as well as monitoring and evaluation officers at the national, regional and district levels.
“Accountability is critical to closing health inequalities,” said Mrs Akosua Kwakye, the Programme Officer for Social Determinant of Health at WHO Ghana. “That is why we are focused on assisting partners to develop action plans to promote and advocate for gender mainstreaming into health programmes”.
For the health workforce in Ghana, this training has been a critical learning opportunity. They underscored the importance of sustained advocacy, engagement, and the power of disaggregated health data to help find context-specific solutions to gender-related differences in health services outcomes.
Reflecting on the workshop, Mrs Maame Esi Amekudzi, a Health Planning Officer, from the Ghana Health Service’s Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Division (PPME) said “I have learnt from the training that, improved insights from equity analysis require actions, collaboration and continuous advocacy to address gender-based health inequalities”.
The capacity-building training also fostered transparent dialogues which highlighted the need to nurture enabling environments and collaborations within and outside the health sector to advance equity in health.
“While my knowledge on analysis of gender-relevant issues has improved, I am now mindful of the need to create the right conditions within and outside health institutions to enable us to deliver healthcare for all” added Mrs Mavis Adobea Botchway, a Planning and Gender Desk Officer, at the Ministry of Health.
To fully leverage the ongoing capacity-building efforts, WHO is committed to mobilizing additional resources, and leveraging the power of collaboration to promote and support actions to remove barriers to health service access and utilization.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.