An Integrated Approach to Addressing Millennium Development Goals
October 30, 2011: The 139th Annual Meeting and Exposition of the American Public Health Association (APHA) commenced with powerful speeches from prominent and provocative democratic intellectual Dr. Cornel West and APHA president Linda Rae Murray. With both of their speeches focusing on domestic healthcare and political issues, a universal theme stood out about empowerment and addressing social inequalities to improve health. In the many sessions and presentations between Sunday and Tuesday at APHA, I noticed this same theme of giving power to the powerless--not just domestically, but throughout the world. Overall, APHA left me with a strong sense of the importance of global development, health, and innovation, and the impact that an integrated approach focused on empowering women has on making substantial improvements to health globally.
On Tuesday morning during the Role of U.N. Millennium Goals in Advancing Women’s Health and Human Rights panel, Oxfam America’s Sarah Kalloch presented “Ending hunger and adapting to climate change in communities and Capitol Hill: Women’s leadership on Millennium Development Goals 1 and 7.” Kalloch’s presentation discussed Oxfam America’s System of Rice Intensification (SRI) program, which supports an integrated approach to the improvement of health and well-being worldwide. The program integrates sustainable agriculture, empowerment of women farmers, and economic development approaches. While her paper only specifically mentions Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) #1 (“Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”) and #7 (“Ensure environmental sustainability”), her presentation touched on almost all of the other MDGs, including gender equality (#3), child health (#4), and maternal health (#5). With international development budgets always under scrutiny and often on the chopping block, programs like SRI use minimal resources to achieve significant results. In the global South, women farmers produce a majority of the food—women’s work produces the staple crops which compose 90% of rural poor’s diet. The SRI program gives farmers a set of practices that enables them to grow more rice while using fewer resources—and, according to Kalloch, works with women farmers in particular. Programs like this one address multiple social determinants of health such as gender inequalities, poverty, and work—all of which can affect important systemic changes to improve lives.
As a part of the UN World Food Programme, Oxfam America has incorporated grain banks as a means to integrate agriculture, food supply and economic development. As Kalloch explained, many farmers worldwide are impoverished to the degree that they cannot feed themselves or their families. There is a vicious cycle at work: farmers must borrow money at high interest rates to pay for seed, equipment, and other essentials for planting. When their crop is ready to harvest, they must sell the entire crop to pay their debts. In an effort to break this cycle, Oxfam America used grain banks, described as “essentially storehouses run by members of the community who have pooled their resources to build a capital base from which they can leverage a better price for their harvests. The banks serve two purposes: to keep a stock of grain on hand for times when food is in short supply in the community and to improve market opportunities for members, by holding onto the grain until the price goes up.”
This increases economic stability, especially when communities are faced with a natural disaster or crop failure. It also creates a place where people can borrow or loan grain or money to fellow community members at lower interest. In one community, Kalloch explained, the women who ran the grain bank were saving to invest in a medical clinic for their area with the surplus they had created. Creating programs that empower women in farming has been shown to reduce poverty and improve health in communities all over the world. CARE’s 2010 report Strong Women, Strong Communities asserts that “More than 800 million women survive on just $1 a day. But research shows that when women have even a small amount of extra money, they invest it in their children’s education, health and housing.” Focusing on integrated approaches for women to address health, agriculture, and economics are an effective way to improve health and well-being for the largest number of people.
Rebecca Shore is a Communications Specialist for the Knowledge for Health Project. She is a regular contributor to K4Health’s blog, including the series “Women of the World: Focusing on Empowerment, Health and Human Rights".