Author Archives: algreer

How to Unlock Reform When Keys Are Used for Protection

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 90’s, I sometimes used to run home with my keys between my fingers, Wolverine style, in case an attacker featured on the local news appeared. I, personally, thought it was an unusual habit until I started sharing with other women who told me they had their own versions of defense armor.

The common fear is a symptom of a bigger problem: the high prevalence of violence against women. A 2013 study by the World Health Organization, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the South African Medical Research Council, produced this grim fact: 35.6% of women surveyed in 80+ countries reported physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence (IPV), or sexual violence by a non-partner. That’s more than 1 in 3 women worldwide.

With the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women quickly approaching on November 25th, the global community is reminded of how much work still needs to be done.

Sadly, for such complex and deeply rooted issues like gender-based violence, there’s no specific cure for which to fundraise and distribute. But, the WHO believes that public health’s direct service and cross-disciplinary approach can be used to heal those who have been affected and deter future incidents from occurring. In response to an attack, women will most likely seek medical care. As the first person she sees, the report suggests training and equipping all healthcare workers with the necessary tools to treat the patient’s physical and mental health.

The prevention part is a bit more involved and calls for comprehensive reform, including enhancing government participation in enforcing policies and laws that condemn gender-based violence, empowering women through education and financial support, and changing social norms that perpetuate violence against women, among other reforms dependent on the culture and context. The recommendation is to find and finance local approaches, such as these two UN Women endorsed programs:

A Call for Help in Samoa

The Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSP) launched a 24-hour help line as a prevention and response mechanism for the 1 out of every 2 women who have reported IPV nation-wide. The service provides counseling, accommodations in local safe houses, and reports to local police. Knowing that someone is there to listen and help has led to about 2,000 calls in since it began in April 2013.

Patrol by Street Vendors in Fiji

In Suva (whose population is almost the size of Samoa’s!), the Streetwize Project turned to the large population of street merchants to publically condemn and arrest men they witness commit violent acts against women. The selected individuals received trainings by Streetwize on how to identify and approach gender-based violence and by the Community Police Unit on how to perform citizen’s arrests. 64% of women in Fiji report IPV, a statistic that will hopefully decrease with continued efforts to change morals.

On this November 25th, I’ll be thinking about these organizations and the many others who fight for keys to be used as just that: keys.


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DIY: Building Your Own Health System, An example from Rwanda

How did Rwanda transition from loosing an estimated 80,000 citizens during the 1994 genocide to reducing its child mortality rate by 50% and expanding its average life expectancy by 10 years?[1] And house hospitals that look like this! (Thanks to Partners in Health.)

The answer is complicated, but mostly attributed to its strong resolve to invest in a quality, accessible health care system.

After years of global health campaigns targeted at specific diseases, some experts are advocating to improving population health through systems, which are better equipped to prevent and treat specific health needs. Those for this shift have cited stunted progress towards achieving specific Millennium Development Goals, such as MDG 4, 5 and 6 (reduce child and maternal mortality rates and treat and prevent the number of HIV/AIDS patients, respectively).[2] The skeptics are mostly cautious because investing in health systems can be expansive, expensive and require intensive management, with difficult to define results.

The case of Rwanda provides strong proof that it is worth every brick, penny, and health worker.

When forced to rebuild after the genocide, the Rwandan government knew it needed a health system equipped to tackle the interconnected issues of poverty and health. Its goal was to promote access to quality health care by eliminating financial barriers that blocked a majority of the country from receiving vital services. The government took responsibility for the project and created the Rwanda Vision 2020 plan as its blueprint. At its crux is the idea that: “Rwanda’s ongoing development will have, at its core, the Nation’s principal asset – its people.”[3]

This massive undertaking came at no small expense. The country had lost much of its health facilities and workers, and a good portion of the health-related aid resources seeping into the country were directed towards HIV/AIDS.  What could be done? Rwanda thought outside the box and integrated these ‘vertical’ program funds into constructing its health system.[4] In doing so, they were able to treat 100,000 patients with HIV, an increase of 99,130 from 2002.[5] Rwanda is on track to meet MDG #6 (as well as the others).

That’s just the start of it! Rwanda’s health insurance plan – Mutuelles de santé – is made affordable to all of its citizens to ensure that heath facilities are not too expensive to be useful. For the 25% of those who cannot afford the small fee, healthcare is provided free of charge.[6] With more people able to access health services for the first time, a corps of community health workers was trained to fill in the gaps where there are no doctors or nurses. Rwandans are now able to seek help for a wide range of ailments that improve their overall quality of life, while the government is still able to reach international benchmarks for development and health progress.

Rwanda proves that building and strengthening a health care system is an investment whose immediate, impressive benefits are just the start. I look forward to watching more grow in years to come.



[2] Reich, MR, Takemi, K, Roberts, MJ, Hsiao, WC. (2008) “Global action on health systems: a proposal for the Toyako G8 summit.” Lancet 371: 865-869.

[3] Rwanda Vision 2020. Found:



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by | October 10, 2013 · 4:15 am