Call for Posts: How a Woman-Centered Agenda Can Make Universal Health Coverage More Than a Mantra

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By: Kathleen McDonald, Independent Consultant; Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Stacy Griswold, Senior Project Coordinator, University Research Co., LLC and Center for Human Services

As momentum builds towards the unveiling of the post-2015 agenda, the global health community has its eye on universal health coverage (UHC) as a priority for operationalizing the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Tomorrow, December 12, 2014, the global health community will launch the first ever Universal Health Coverage Day to advocate for health care to be accessible to all who seek it.

The issue at hand is not whether UHC is achievable, but is ensuring that UHC researchers, implementers, and policy-makers collaborate to provide rich evidence to improve and ensure quality health care for all.

In order to facilitate this collaboration, the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) and USAID|TRAction brought to light the role of women in UHC at the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Cape Town, South Africa on September 30, 2014. At their satellite session entitled Woman-Centered Care as the Engine for Universal Health Coverage, they sought to build consensus on the necessity of a woman-centered care approach for strengthening health systems and achieving UHC.

The MHTF and USAID|TRAction brought together leaders in women’s health—Dr. Metin Gulmezoglu, Dr. Karen Hardee, Mary Ellen Stanton, and Dr. Hannah Sebitloane—to present perspectives on the challenges and synergies within agenda setting, measurement, women in the workforce, family planning, HIV/AIDS and UHC. Renewing emphasis for a woman-centered agenda could provide the collaborative opportunities necessary for developing appropriate metrics, measureable results, and a framework for sustainably achieving access to the highest quality care in UHC.

Measurement: What would the targets and priorities be?

There is a need for global consensus and action on defining and measuring woman-centered targets and outcomes, beyond notions of death and disability. This includes patient satisfaction and dissatisfaction, experiences of disrespectful and respectful care, and quality of life:

  • What matters most to women?
  • What factors influence their decision to use or opt out of healthcare services?
  • How do we define patient-centered?
  • In thinking about quality, how do we move our focus beyond the emphasis on “coverage”?

Furthermore, the development and application of metrics need to be meaningful to health systems, but not overly burdensome for collection and reporting. Therefore, linking outcomes to existing initiatives in improving quality of care should be considered.

Quality matters, and that includes human rights

On the heels of the iERG 2014 report on Every Woman Every Child, leaders at the MHTF and USAID|TRAction session emphasized that, while quality of care will be a large part of the discourse in the post-2015 agenda, we must consider a rights-based approach when implementing UHC. From a systems approach, rights will need to be considered at all levels, not just service delivery, which will require greater capacity building in-country in order to operationalize what it means to be “rights-based”. Assessing disrespect and abuse and ensuring respectful maternity care throughout the health system is essential for ensuring quality and mitigating human rights infractions.

Whose support is needed?

Experts at the symposium emphasized the need to address the influence of men as well as the importance of each woman’s perspective. A major challenge will be closing the gap between research and practice. A woman-centered research agenda will need to refocus on the perspectives and experiences of women in collaboration with male advocates. We need a better understanding of how power dynamics influence health care decision making. Support for woman-centered care should be leveraged from a wide-range of stakeholders and researchers: including legislators, healthcare workers, politicians, youth advocates, and men and women from the community. Researchers and others must ask: what is it that women need? What do the women themselves believe that they need, and what do health providers think women need for their care?

Join the Conversation

In order to broaden the audience and contributors of this conversation, the Maternal Health Task Force with USAID|TRAction will host the Woman-Centered Care for UHC blog series, and your participation is needed! Our goal for this blog series is to create a platform for setting priorities, sharing innovations, reviewing lessons learned, and connecting maternal health professionals working for woman-centered care around the world.

Questions and topics for potential guest posts:

  1. What role does researching and addressing disrespect and abuse play in the woman-centered agenda and UHC?
  2. What are the current barriers to sufficient measurement and how can addressing these gaps strengthen a woman-centered approach for UHC?
  3. What are examples of maternal health programs that involved both men and women? What were the lessons learned? How is male involvement a critical part of ensuring woman-centered care for UHC?
  4. How will evaluating women’s needs, perspectives, status in society, and health care outcomes facilitate a woman-centered approach to UHC?
  5. How can synergy be created between different aspects of women’s health to ensure comprehensive woman-centered care in a UHC framework?
  6. How can improving the role of women in the health workforce be a catalyst for woman-centered care for UHC?

You may also feel free to suggest your own topic to our editors.

General guidelines for guest blog posts:

  • Please include the author name, title, and photo (optional)
  • Goal: Guest posts should raise questions discuss lessons learned, analyze programs, describe research, offer recommendations, share resources, or offer critical insight.
  • Audience: The audience for this series is health and development professionals working in maternal and newborn health around the world, primarily in resource-constrained settings.
  • Tone: Conversational. Doesn’t need to meet professional publication standards.
  • Feel free to choose your own style or approach. Q/A as well as lists (e.g. top ten lessons) can often be effective ways of organizing blog posts
  • Length: 400-600 words
  • No institutional promotion, please
  • Please include links to sources such as websites and/or publications
  • May also include photos and videos; please include a caption and credit for the photo

To contribute a post to this series, please contact Katie Millar at

Submissions to this series will be reviewed and accepted on a rolling basis, but preference will be given to posts received by January 1st.

Posts in this series will be shared on the MHTF blog and the USAID|TRAction blog —and may be cross-posted on other leading global health and development blogs.