Martha Kwataine, Malawi
A shortage of health workers is one of Malawi's most pressing development challenges
Tackling inequality and addressing Malawi's health worker shortage are the two issues at the top of Martha Kwataine's agenda. And as the global economy struggles to overcome the financial crisis, she wants to remind world leaders that they mustn't risk lives by cutting back on their aid commitments.
More about this health hero
When it comes to health, Martha Kwataine is one of Malawi's most vivacious advocates. She's certainly a force to be reckoned with. As executive director of the Malawi Health Equity Network, Martha spearheads the fight for equal access to health services in her country, and the network acts as a watchdog on the government's health expenditure and the functioning of national planning processes.
As she explains, "My work revolves around fighting for justice in the health sector, especially around access for the poorest and most marginalised, which is still a huge issue." Being poor, she says, should be no barrier to healthcare. "My role is to empower the rural poor, that even though you are poor, you have the right to life and that can only be achieved if your right to health is achieved."
One of the most pressing challenges facing Malawi is the shortage of trained health workers, but the work that Martha and her colleagues in the human resources for health coalition do is bearing fruit. One of their recent successes was the reintroduction of government scholarships for students in training institutions run by the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham). This is no small matter: with Cham providing nearly 40 per cent of the health services in the country, proper training for their staff is vital.
But it's not just training. Martha is driven to ensure that these trained health workers are available throughout the country, reaching areas that are underserved. "My role involves reminding the government that they have the responsibility to provide quality health services that serve the needs of the people," says Martha. "It gives me excitement when I see things change, especially when I see the poor people acknowledge that something has changed. The poor need to understand their right to access."
Martha, who lives in Lilongwe, wants to remind world leaders that scaling back aid is not an option. "The economic recession shouldn't be used as an excuse to cut aid at the expense of poor people," she says, because much remains to be done. "There's still a need for equity within and between countries," she adds. "It's important that we prioritise our efforts but we must do so without risking peoples' lives."
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