Honoring Mothers on International Women’s Day

Huffington Post | March 8, 2013

In honor of Global Women's Day, Barbara Bush, CEO and Co-founder of Global Health Corps, interviews GHC fellow Elizabeth Sahner, who works with Children's Health Fund in New York. Bush also briefly highlights the work of GHC fellows placed at EGPAF's offices in Malawi.

This International Women's Day, Global Health Corps (GHC) honors the hard work of our female fellows, staff and supporters as well as the mothers, grandmothers and all of the other women worldwide who ensure their families receive the vital and necessary care they need to live full and healthy lives.

Global Health Corps fellows work in vulnerable communities across East Africa, Southern Africa, as well as in the United States, where access to health care, resources and information are limited, especially for historically disempowered groups like women and children. Elizabeth Sahner, a Global Health Corps fellow with Children's Health Fund in New York, works everyday to serve the health needs of mothers and children in the Bronx.

We're so excited you're a part of the GHC 2012-2013 fellowship class! What made you apply to Global Health Corps and why are you interested in working on these issues?

I am thrilled to be a part of this year's GHC class! After college I spent a year teaching English at a university in Bogotá, Colombia as a Fulbright grantee. This was the experience of a lifetime, but while living, traveling, and twice being hospitalized there, I began to question how such a severely strained healthcare system could adequately serve the country's most marginalized families living in extreme poverty. Poor mothers and their young children are particularly systematically excluded from access to consistent care. Knowing that families in the tri-state area faced parallel inequities, I applied to Global Health Corps in the hope that I could help make a difference close to home.

Can you explain Children's Health Fund's work and mission?

It has been such an honor to work with women and children in the South Bronx through Children's Health Fund. The organization works nationwide to provide quality primary care and an array of additional programs to medically underserved children and their families. This mission goes hand in hand with the priority of enabling children to thrive and reach their full potential by supporting strong families from an early age. As a Program Implementation Fellow, I help to coordinate programs at CHF's flagship site in the South Bronx. Operated in partnership with the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, the South Bronx Health Center and Center for Child Health and Resiliency are located in the poorest congressional district in the country. The majority of patients rely on Medicaid to afford their care. At the clinic, interdisciplinary programs afford mothers with linked pre- and postnatal care with the goal of nurturing healthy families.

What types of programs do you work on related to women's health?

I've spent this year working closely with the clinic's Women's Health and pediatrics teams on maternal and child health-related programs. We offer mothers and families comprehensive nontraditional care including a prenatal group that begins at 18 weeks of pregnancy and a pediatrician-facilitated well baby group, which runs until 18 months of age. These sessions cover practical clinical information along with nutrition demonstrations, fitness and exercise activities, and conversations about topics like relationship dynamics and how to build strong families.

It's really great to see that CHF is addressing maternal and child health issues from all ends of the spectrum! Now that you are half way through your fellowship year, what have you learned about women's health in your work with CHF?

This work has shown me that the wellbeing and resiliency of mothers and children is contingent on holistic care. Whether it means giving personalized breastfeeding support, providing training on discipline strategies, or addressing what fatherhood means, interventions should stretch far beyond what we think of as a typical doctor's visit. The consistency of group care in particular arms mothers with the information and resources to tackle health-related obstacles as well as numerous other aspects of their families' lives. I've witnessed how this approach fosters strong bonds between mothers and reinforces the health center's role as community-building presence.

Thanks, Elizabeth! Good luck with the second half of your fellowship!

Elizabeth is just one of our current 90 fellows that works every day to address pressing global health challenges. The Global Health Corps community understands that the health of a woman can determine the health of a family, and ultimately the health of a village or country. Fellows with CIDRZ in Zambia are using technology and connectivity to better treat women with cervical cancer, a cancer commonly tied to women with HIV/AIDS; fellows with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in Malawi work to ensure HIV-positive expectant women receive the support and care they need to bear HIV-negative babies, while fellows with the MIFUMI project in Uganda counsel and empower victims of domestic violence.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let's remember to reach across borders and silos to increase health access and improve health outcomes for women around the world. Elizabeth and the women (and men!) of GHC are pioneers of collaboration and innovation in global health and I'm proud to work side by side with them every day!