Prime Minister and Health Minister of Nepal Open White Ribbon Alliance Global Meeting with Strong Endorsements of WRA Nepal and Self-Care
By Betsy McCallon, CEO White Ribbon Alliance
Nepal’s Prime Minister and Secretary of the Ministry of Health gave strong endorsements for prioritizing maternal and newborn health and self-care as a solution during the 2017 White Ribbon Alliance Global Meeting Opening Ceremony, which took place in Kathmandu on July 24, 2017. Coinciding on International Self-Care Day, the event was hosted by Safe Motherhood Network Federation Nepal/WRA Nepal and kicked off a four-day strategy meeting with White Ribbon Alliance staff, volunteers and members from across the world.
“For me, health is a true indicator of a country’s prosperity; health should remain at the top of the global and national development agenda,” said Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. “The rural women in Nepal still have little access to safe motherhood and this problem must be addressed collectively to ensure that onwards the country would see no maternal deaths and child mortality,” continued Deuba.
Early Maternal Health Leadership from Nepal
The Safe Motherhood Network Federation Nepal, the national affiliate of White Ribbon Alliance in Nepal, has been a leader in reproductive, maternal and newborn health and rights for decades. Dr. Arzu Rana Debua founded SMNF in 1996 and shortly thereafter brought together maternal and newborn health advocates from across the country to form WRA Nepal. As the movement grew, so did its influence.
“The Safe Motherhood Network has been on the forefront in supporting the Ministry of Health in advocating for reproductive health rights in Nepal. For this, advocacy at all levels from parliamentarians to the local level was essential,” said Dr. Kiran Regmi, Secretary of the Ministry of Health in Nepal.
In the past two decades, Nepal has reduced the maternal mortality ratio by 76%, under-five mortality by 73%, infant mortality by 67% and neonatal morality mortality by 42%.
That leadership helped propel the White Ribbon Alliance movement, now active across continents and countries, with worldwide membership and 14 active National Alliances in Africa, Asia and Europe.
“The Safe Motherhood Network Federation was one of the inspirations for the founding of White Ribbon Alliance. From the outset with Dr. Arzu Deuba’s leadership, SMNF knew that if we were to make real progress on improving health for women and newborns, the issue had to be made political. It had to become a social movement. And it had to be everyone’s business,” said Betsy McCallon, CEO of White Ribbon Alliance Global Secretariat.
The White Ribbon Alliance Movement
“Since the founding of White Ribbon Alliance in 1999, we’ve been on quite a journey: putting issues of maternal mortality on national and global agendas, getting the right policies and investments in place, and holding all to account. We’ve put women and communities at the center — who know the problems and the solutions best. We’ve been bold in taking on sensitive issues of disrespect, abuse, corruption, and discrimination because we believe in the rights of all women to be upheld. We’ve been creative in trying new approaches, forming unlikely partnerships, and speaking truth to power,” continued McCallon.
Self-Care: A New Approach to An Age-Old Tradition
One of those approaches is a new look at something that’s been around since the beginning of time: self-care. White Ribbon Alliance and Bayer Consumer Care have partnered to bring new and innovative self-care approaches around programs in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. These approaches include empowering women with knowledge and confidence so that they can direct their own healthcare and that of their families. The initiative is also providing global policy leadership to help reframe self-care as an important partnership between a government and its citizens, something Nepal is actively embracing.
Having recently launched the “My Year of Health” self-care campaign, the Nepal initiative is aimed at educating and encouraging the public to abstain from alcohol and tobacco, get regular exercise, eat nutritious foods, get regular health check-ups and make a commitment to the health of the broader community. “This campaign is basically to emphasize the importance of self-care and its benefits, which are seen throughout a lifetime,” said Dr. Regmi. “Thank you for organizing this event today to reiterate the importance of self-care, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth.”
Nepal has a rich tradition of self-care for maternal and newborn health, with strong support for breastfeeding and the prioritization of nutritious diets for new mothers, to both help with the production of breastmilk and keep the mother strong.
In addition to the life-saving self-care practices of breastfeeding and maternal nutrition, new mothers in Nepal are treated with great care. According to “On Becoming a Mother” by Brigid McConville, mother and baby are given a hot oil massage to help them relax and the care of the baby initially falls to the paternal grandmother so the mother can get rest. Then, eleven days after the birth, mother and baby go to stay with the maternal grandparents.
The self-care campaign is one way that Nepal is looking to translate strong policies into action, a challenge that is well recognized by the government. “Nepal understands that to realize the health goals they have set forth in their constitution and through years of policy leadership, they must involve people, which is the essence of self-care,” said McCallon. “White Ribbon Alliance is honored to be kicking off our strategy meeting here in Nepal, specifically on International Self-Care Day.”
Looking Back and Looking Forward
As the Global White Ribbon Alliance progresses, Nepal and all 14 National Alliances are sure to continue to provide the inspiration and leadership to propel the movement.
“When drafting the Constitution of Nepal, it took some persuading to get maternal health included. We were not a huge NGO with loads of money, but we were very effective. The Global Secretariat raised the agenda to the UN, WHO and other global leaders. We were just a group of people who thought mothers shouldn’t die, but all the big organizations understood that WRA was noteworthy,” said Dr. Arzu Deuba.
As White Ribbon Alliance embarks on its next five-year strategy, it plans to be just as newsworthy, bringing quality, equitable and dignified care to every woman, everywhere.