GENEVA, NOVEMBER 1 – Departing the WHO after a two-decades career, the Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health, Flavia Bustreo, reflected on the achievements for women and children accomplished during her long mandate.
“I have been the Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health since 2010, and before that filled numerous other roles at WHO dating back to 1994. I am very proud of everything we have accomplished for women and children during this pivotal period, but six achievements stand out, starting from the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
“In 2010, progress on maternal and child health was lagging behind the other MDGs, so a new strategy was needed to spur action and investment in areas that had long been neglected and under-funded. I was proud to be one of the leaders who¬ – under the direction of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with many other partners – developed and launched the Global Strategy.
It and its 2015 successor have already started to show results; I am delighted by the reductions in maternal and child mortality, particularly since 2010. However, we are far from done; 5.6 million under-fives, 1.2 million adolescents and over 300 000 mothers still die annually – mostly from preventable causes.
A very needed focus on adolescents
Bustreo then pointed out the special focus put on the health of teenagers: “I feel we have effected an important shift for adolescents by putting front and centre their health issues and priorities. Not only did we publish the first ever “health for the world’s adolescents”, a dynamic, multimedia, online report which for the first time highlighted comprehensive health issues that adolescents face, but we also broadened the renewed Global Strategy to include adolescents. One of the very advances we achieved in particular for adolescent girls of which I personally feel very proud is in the area of vaccination. I was member of the Gavi Board and then co-chair as Gavi initiated the roll-out of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines – to tackle the leading cause of cervical cancer.
The global plan of action on violence against women and girls, and against children is the third achievement.
“I felt great pride on the day this was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2016. It was an issue we knew we had to tackle – no matter how hard it was to negotiate – because a shocking 1 in 3 women globally were experiencing intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner. We also knew the health sector could play a vital role and make a huge difference, so getting Ministers of Health to accept the plan was a victory for women and for health. It goes beyond SDG3 to contribute towards the achievement of other goals: SDG5 on gender equality and empowerment and 16 on peace, justice and inclusive societies”.
- Learn more about the Global Plan of Action on Violence against Women and Girls, and against Children
4. A new global strategy and action plan on ageing and health
“This is the newest area of work I have been involved in. It has grown exponentially and I am pleased it is now thriving. Many Member States have ageing populations, so the new global strategy and action plan, adopted by WHA in 2016, is vital to address the challenges of demographic change.
5. Inclusion of the right to health in the Paris Agreement at the Conference of the Parties (COP21).
Another achievement of which I am most proud is the work we did with Ministers of Health and Environment at COP21 in 2015. Our work with partners on the scientific evidence helped raise awareness about the links between climate change and health, but it took additional diplomacy and persistence to mobilize the needed political commitment to explicitly recognize these links as well as the equity and the right to health in the agreement.
6. Human rights to health and through health
A vital development in recent years has been the wider recognition of the centrality of human rights to health – a truth already enshrined in the constitution of WHO and part of its very DNA. Health cannot be seen as optional, or health services as charity. I am proud that through my work I have been able to advance thinking on the need for a human rights-based approach to health, and to document the evidence proving that such an approach is not only the right thing to do, but also leads to better health outcomes. Last year, we assembled a landmark group of high-level individuals – including former Heads of State and sitting Ministers of Health – to champion the health and human rights of women, children and adolescents. I am proud to say they achieved a first by bringing their recommendations to both the World Health Assembly and the Human Rights Council and having the heads of WHO and UNHCHR commit to a joint program of work to give continuity to this work.
- Learn more about the High-level Working Group for the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents and our final report