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A look back at m2m’s week at UNGA78

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly High-Level Meeting week took place at the UN Headquarters

The week of 18th of September saw a mothers2mothers (m2m) delegation fly the m2m flag in New York City as the global health community convened for the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) week—the yearly convening which this year took stock of the progress made in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This year’s UNGA was of particular importance for m2m, with one of the High Level meetings focused on Member States adopting a new Political Declaration for universal health coverage (UHC)—a critical moment to ensure a firm commitment from policymakers and leaders on the need for care that is people-centred and people-powered.

m2m’s key message throughout the week? That UHC—ensuring that all people access the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship—can only be achieved through the integration of paid, professional, and fully digitalised female community health workers (CHWs), like m2m Mentor Mothers, into the formal health system. Why? Because without CHWs, there will be no UHC.   

m2m Spokeswomen—Site Coordinator Bupe Sinkala from Zambia, and Strategic Projects Officer Babalwa Mbono from South Africa—passionately advocated for community-led solutions and for CHWs to be kept front and centre in policymakers’ thinking and approaches to delivering health for all. 

For m2m’s team, the week was full of speaking engagements advocating for CHWs, as well as reconnecting with long-time partners, and meeting new ones. Some of the highlights include:  

  • Monday, 18th of September: Reconnecting with old friends and meeting new partners 

The Community Health Impact Coalition’s (CHIC) side event,From words to action: Winning the budget line for professional CHWs”, explored what health systems integration can look like when CHWs are in

m2m Spokeswoman Bupe Sinkala speaking from the podium at CHIC's UNGA side event

m2m Spokeswoman Bupe Sinkala speaking at CHIC’s UNGA side event

cluded as a recognised, salaried, supplied, supported, and supervised occupational group.  

m2m Spokeswoman Bupe spoke about how CHWs like her and her fellow Mentor Mothers are core to the primary health system, and in delivering health for all and leaving no one behind. Bupe was clear that it is time to shift the focus from “if” CHW integration is possible to “how” it can be achieved:

“Now is the time to turn words into action—We must unlock the full potential of CHWs to deliver health for all. For us, that me

m2m Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono posing with UN Goodwill Ambassador and Actor Priyanka Chopra at Goal's House during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2023

m2m Spokeswoman Babalwa Mbono with UN Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra

ans three things: investment, support, and recognition. And all of these require a budget line—not as an afterthought, not as something to pay lip service to, but something that is built on from the start and is committed to in the long-term.”

m2m Spokeswoman Babalwa and m2m Chief Growth Officer Emma France also attended an event organised by The Global Goals and Victoria’s Secret at Goal’s House. With just seven years left to meet the United Nations Global Goal of gender equality by 2030, and progress trailing behind where it needs to be, it was great to learn more about how Victoria’s Secret and Actor, Producer, and UN Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra are planning to take action and advance progress.

  • Tuesday, 19th of September: Emphasising the need for recognition of women’s health rights and of female health workers  

Tuesday built on the momentum with two exciting events. Babalwa joined The Alliance for Gender Equality and UHC, in partnership with Women Deliver, to address “challenges to gender and sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) and rights in UHC.” With the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC a couple of days away, participants were keen to remind Member States of the unique opportunity at hand to strengthen their commitment to embedding gender-responsive health systems and recognising SRHR as integral to UHC. 

Babalwa recounted: “I know first-hand what challenges a woman can face when trying to seek health advice or deciding which health decisions will set her on the right path.  It is so vital for the new Political Declaration to be strong, clear, and explicit about SRHR, human rights, gender equality. Without this, I ask you—what signal would we be sending to the women girls, women, gender-diverse people or marginalised groups in my community and around the world?  Invest in female CHWs is now. Not “tomorrow” or “soon.” Now.” 

Bupe speaking at the Johnson & Johnson Foundation storytelling event

Babalwa’s powerful words were echoed by Bupe at an intimate evening of storytelling hosted by the Johnson & Johnson Foundation focused on achieving UHC through community-based care, where attendees heard from health workers who work every day to bring quality care to their communities—including Bupe’s powerful personal account:

“A community health worker strengthens entire support systems. The key word is truly community. I know my clients as well as I know myself. When I take care of myself, I take better care of them; and as I take care of them, I also grow healthier in my own life. That’s what keeps me going—and I want others to have that opportunity too. 

My aunt once told me—when life gets tough, you have two choices: To give up and accept defeat, or to rise up and fight. Thinking of my aunt, I chose to fight.” 

  • Friday, 22nd of September: A final day looking to the future of the health workforce  

m2m closed out our final day of UNGA week with a breakfast roundtable organised by Women in Global Health (WGH), in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN on “Time to address the root causes of the Great Resignation of Women Health Workers.” 

Coinciding with a new report released by WHG that week, which found that the “global health worker shortage is now the global health emergency,” that “threatens global health security, health systems delivery and achievement of UHC,” Bupe shared her own perspective on the topic: 

My country has a doctor-patient ratio of one doctor for 12,000 patients, instead of the WHO’s acceptable standard of one physician for 5,000 people. 

m2m’s secret to providing consistent quality care? Investing and hiring women who use their life experience to transform empathic care to compassionate care. That is why we want to see more investment, support, recognition, and career pathing for female CHWs.” 

We couldn’t agree more!   

After this exciting and productive week, m2m is even more determined to ensure that female CHWs are fully recognised and integrated into health systems. Follow our journey on our social media feeds and by signing up to our newsletter

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