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EU launches initiative to improve reproductive health and rights in Africa

The commitment is part of the EU-Africa Global Gateway package and the EU Global Health Strategy

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The EU alongside three African regional economic communities have announced a new initiative to improve reproductive health and rights in Africa.

The European and African partners are aiming to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), particularly among adolescent girls and young women, to empower and enable them to reach their full potential.

The initiative, which is hoped to enhance coordination and collaboration among partners, was launched in Kigali, Rwanda on December 15 and is part of the EU-Africa Global Gateway package and the EU Global Health Strategy.

According to the European Commission, the new initiative builds on a joint analysis of gaps, needs, and lessons learnt, and prioritises  areas where a regional perspective can complement global and country level investments, with a focus on increasing the implementation of continental and regional commitments on SRHR in the health and education sector, improving the availability, affordability and acceptability of SRHR goods and strengthening advocacy and accountability.

The pandemic has had a strong negative impact on SRHR in Africa. Reports suggest further action is needed to make available information on SRHR, goods and services and accelerate progress on key issues such as family planning, the fight against gender-based violence, harmful practices, maternal mortality and sexual health and well-being.

“In line with the new EU Global Health Strategy, empowering women, girls and young people by investing in their health and education is key to building prosperous and inclusive societies,” said Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen.

“I am proud to launch, as a key follow-up of the AU-EU Summit, this Africa–EU partnership initiative and collaborative framework to advance our shared, strong commitment to realise sexual and reproductive health and rights for all and ensure that we deliver with more impact where it is needed.”

“Together with our European and African partners, we want to make sure that everyone in Sub Saharan Africa, whatever their gender, age or sex, can make their own choices about their body, health and future,” added Frank Vandenbroucke, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health of Belgium, in charge of Development Cooperation and Major Cities Policy.

“With 70 per cent of the region’s population being under the age of 30, it is crucial that younger generations have access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

“Our expertise and experience in education and health, particularly with regards to Universal Health Coverage, as well as the long-standing cooperation with our African partners are strong assets that will undoubtedly contribute to the SRHR Agenda in Sub Saharan Africa and to establishing universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and rights, especially for young girls and women.”

Birgit Pickel, director general for Africa, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, said: “Health is a human right. Improving access to reproductive health services has an impact particularly on the lives of women and girls that goes far beyond the health sector.

“Qualitative reproductive health services are thus fundamental to achieving gender equality and to promoting the social, economic, and political participation of women.

Anne-Claire Amprou, Ambassador for Global Health, French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, stressed that promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights must be a priority.

“It is indeed at the cornerstone of gender equality and human rights, which are also the foundations of our feminist diplomacy.”

Funding from the EU budget includes €60m in new funds for 2023–2027 and EU member states are expected to make new financial commitments in the coming years.

The initiative has been developed by the European Commission, the EU Member States Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxemburg, Netherlands and Sweden, and three African regional economic communities: the East African Community (EAC), the West African Health Organization (WAHO) of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The commission says the move will be taken forward in partnership with a range of additional stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, private sector, academic institutions and the United Nations.

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Firm secures US$1.9m grant to support women entrepreneurs in Africa

eha Impact Ventures aims to support women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises

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Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at eHA Impact Ventures / Source: evelyncastle.com

The impact investing enterprise eHA Impact Ventures (EIV) has been awarded a US$1.9m grant from the non-profit organisation eHealth Africa (eHA) to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.

eHA’s board of directors approved the donation as part of its effort to “strengthen” healthcare delivery systems and support vulnerable populations.

The grant, the organisation said, will be deployed to “upscale” women-funded companies to improve the health and wealth of African women, their families and their communities.

The donation is hoped to address the US$42bn funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa and help female founders have better access to funding opportunities.

In addition, the funds are expected to support health interventions like the pre-screening of cervical cancer and improve delivery of blood and blood products to healthcare facilities.

“The grant will be instrumental in boosting the economic capacity of women across Africa by supporting high-impact women-owned businesses,” said Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at EIV, who founded the firm in 2021.

“Furthermore, it will [help us] upscale funding, mentorship and training programmes to help women create thriving businesses that drive economic growth in their communities.”

My Le, board executive at eHealth Africa, said: “These donations could not have come at a better time as  women continue to struggle to meet up with both health and economic demands. Thus we are optimistic that the funds will go a mile in bridging fiscal gaps for women and other vulnerable groups to lead healthier lives.

“Supporting women will go a long way in not just improving their societal impact but also contribute immensely to sustainable development especially in the African region.”

Recognising women’s “vital” role in building strong health systems, Atef Fawaz, CEO of eHealth Africa, added: “We acknowledge the profound impact women have in strengthening healthcare systems, aligning with our vision at eHealth Africa.”

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Menstrual product wins innovation award in Switzerland

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser

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Penelope Finnie, chief executive officer at Egal

Pads on a Roll, a menstrual product that can be dispensed in public stalls similar to a toilet paper roll, has won a prestigious award at the Women’s Health Innovation Summit Europe in Basel. 

Each year the Women’s Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) helps promising start-ups raise their brand awareness and pitch their solutions in front of investors and industry leaders.

Egal, the company behind Pads on a Roll, has been honoured with this year’s Women’s Health Innovation award after the WHIS selection committee recognised the start-up as an innovative company poised to disrupt the European women’s health landscape.

“Egal Pads is so honoured to have been chosen for the Women’s Health Innovation Award,” Penelope Finnie, Egal chief executive officer, told Femtech World.

“The other nine finalists were amazing companies run by wonderful people. The whole conference was a testament to the importance of the femtech movement.

“For us, it was particularly exciting as the EU is the next market we are focusing on. We hope that having period products available in stalls just like toilet paper is, will become the norm as it is necessary for equality.

“We also hope that by winning, it brings attention to this easily solved but long ignored issue,” Finnie added.

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser.

Egal aims to sell Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools

Each roll contains 40 pads and can be placed directly in stalls, unlike the typical tampon dispensers that often require money to access the products and are located outside the stall.

The pads are less expensive to maintain than products in vending machines because they are easier to refill, and require less space and packaging.

Research shows that 20 percent of girls in the US and UK have missed school due to lack of access to period products, with more than 90 per cent of menstruators having experienced jammed, broken or empty dispensers in public toilets.

Egal aims to solve this issue by selling Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools.

The Boston-based company has done pilots at various universities across the US and is hoping to develop a flushable version of the product in the future.

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‘It’s hard to stay healthy’- experts raise alarm over ‘pervasive’ economic challenges in US

A report highlighting women’s struggle with economic stress in the US has prompted experts to demand change

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Experts have raised concerns over the “pervasive” economic and health challenges women in the US are facing, after a damning report exposed significant financial stress.

national survey of women over 25 has found that American women face significant economic stress, with half of women reporting feeling “uncertain” or “worried” when thinking about how to pay for healthcare later in life and low-income and rural women reporting challenges to staying healthy today.

The report, which highlighted financial difficulties among women for the second year in a row, has prompted experts to speak out and demand change.

“The recent findings from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) underscore the pervasive economic and health challenges confronting American women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities,” Georgie Kovacs, women’s health expert and founder of Fempower Health, told Femtech World.

“Many women juggle caregiving responsibilities for their children while managing employment, often in environments that offer limited support.

“The scarcity of healthy food options in low-income areas, coupled with restricted access to essential healthcare services, exacerbates their daily struggles, impacting both their mental and physical health and that of their families.”

Underlining the “profound” impact of the menopause transition, Kovacs said women across the country are in desperate need of enhanced workplace policies and better access to specialised care.

“Our approach to addressing these challenges cannot be piecemeal – we require comprehensive systems that integrate childcare, health services, job security and mental health support, ensuring that no aspect of a woman’s health is overlooked,” she explained.

“It is imperative that we view the economic insecurities faced by women through a holistic lens, recognising the interconnectedness of health, employment and wellbeing.

“It’s time for all stakeholders, including government bodies and private sectors, to unite in crafting and implementing solutions that are as multifaceted as the lives of the women they aim to support.”

Katie Higgins, chief commercial officer at fertility benefits platform Progyny, called on employers to do more to support women, arguing that the pressure of financial uncertainty could “erode” self-esteem, strain relationships and compound parental stress.

“Balancing financial pressures with caregiving responsibilities can heighten feelings of guilt and inadequacy, impacting maternal mental health.

“Employers play a vital role in empowering women to prioritise their health without financial barriers through comprehensive benefits that include family building, fertility, maternal leave and menopause.”

Lois Quam, chief executive officer at sexual and reproductive health organisation Pathfinder International, noted that there is an important connection between health and income, meaning that women with the least financial resources often find themselves unable to access health services and modern innovations.

“From rural areas to the wealthiest cities in the world, women everywhere are being left behind. In the US and globally, they get paid and promoted less than men and leave the workforce at greater numbers to raise their children.

“Closing the gender pay gap could help keep women in the workforce, especially when childcare is so costly and inaccessible,” she told Femtech World.

Author and women’s health expert, Dr Mindy Pelz, encouraged women to “take control” of their health.

“It’s hard to stay healthy, even without the added pressure of economic stress,” she said.

“Many women just can’t rely on the American healthcare system to take care of them. That’s why I’m such an advocate for taking your health into your own hands.

“Simple lifestyle changes like intermittent fasting, meditation, cold exposure, walking 10,000 steps a day, avoiding electronics before bed might seem small on their own, but if you add them together and are consistent with them over time, they can make a huge difference.”

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