I had an opportunity to talk to Dr Rutendo Bonde, the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) about why the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should prioritize women’s health.
What inspired you into medicine?
I am a woman, a mother, and an African born with severe clubfeet disease, which made walking impossible. I spent most of my childhood in hospitals, trying to rectify this problem. It was during this period that I fell in love with medicine. I loved the commitment of doctors and nurses and I said to myself, “I can do this, I can also help people!” I have worked in the health and non-profit sector and seen how women’s inability to negotiate for safe sex, for example, can impact on their health. Such things push me to go beyond the call of duty.
You are currently the chairperson of Zimbabwe Association of Doctors Human for Rights; it is rare for doctors to be active in human rights activism. What drove medical doctors to choose this path?
I know lawyers and social scientists lead in defending human rights. The reality though is doctors are at the frontline and it would be a shame for them to remain silent when they witness so many challenges which impact people’s health.
Health practitioners, deal with Ebola and Cholera outbreak. They watch women die during childbirth because there is no blood for a transfusion or a children contract HIV at birth because drugs are unavailable. It is impossible for us not to question why these things have happened.
ZADHR was born for this. Doctors need to defend human rights because they have many stories to tell about how the system has failed humanity. We ask governments and policymakers to do more to protect the right to health. We make policy recommendations because we are the foot soldiers who know what has worked and what needs to be improved. ZADHR has made it its business to tell the government that if they ignore the right to health, their countries and economies cannot succeed.
What are some of the health challenges women face in Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and did not meet the Millennium Development Goals health targets. We have women delivering with untrained birth attendants under unhygienic conditions. There are records of women dying from childbirth complications because the district hospitals do not have ambulances. Women as the sole-providers of maternity are disadvantaged if maternal mortality is not addressed.
The second challenge is the incidents of cervical cancer. Institutions do not have the resources to conduct cervical cancer screening. The World Heath Organization stipulates that women who are HIV positive for example, need to be screened for cervical cancer at least once a year. The reality in Zimbabwe is most facilities that distribute anti-retroviral drugs do not have the capacity to screen these women hence they are at risk of developing cancer.
As you know the world leaders are going to meet to agree on the new Global Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals. What do you want them to consider as they make these decisions?
I want them to appreciate that yes poverty is sexist even from the health perspective. Women bare the brunt but there is little investment in their well-being. Women need the opportunity to access various elements, which contribute to their health including education, food, and shelter. I want governments to prioritize their investments in health and put more money towards women and children. I would also like to see governments meeting the targets they set and African governments to commit their own resources to financing key components such as health and education.
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