Award for WHO’s contribution to maternal and women’s health in Kyrgyzstan
The government and Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan presented WHO’s Regional Adviser for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Gunta Lazdane, the “Excellent worker of public health services of the Kyrgyz Republic” award. This award was in recognition of her work to improve the health of women and mothers in the country.
Gunta received the award during a field visit to Kyrgyzstan in July. Officially based in Copenhagen, Gunta has been involved in health in Kyrgyzstan for many years. Nevertheless, the award came as a surprise.
“I really didn’t expect this award. We don’t work for awards, but for the health of women, mothers, newborns and young people,” she says when asked about the award, and quickly adds that her award recognizes not only WHO’s specific work in Kyrgyzstan but more broadly WHO’s global contribution.
WHO’s work in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan remains one of the countries of the WHO European Region facing the biggest economic challenges. With one of the highest maternal and neonatal mortality rates in the Region, improving access to and the quality of maternal and newborn health in Kyrgyzstan has been a priority for WHO since the 1990s, when the country gained its independence.
“Most of the time I have spent outside of the office has been in Kyrgyzstan,” Gunta explains. The prioritization of maternal health by both WHO and the Government of Kyrgyzstan has yielded positive results, in particular in the areas of policy development and implementation of good practices throughout the country.
Gunta has coordinated WHO work to support the Kyrgyz government using a comprehensive, life-course approach, from maternal, newborn and child health to family planning. The focus has been on improving the quality of reproductive health services in primary health care, including:
- access to safe abortion
- implementation of effective perinatal care in maternity hospitals
- assessment of the impact of these activities.
WHO has also invested in teaching, capacity-building and monitoring of reproductive health, especially maternal mortality and morbidity. Gunta emphasizes that many of these activities would not have been possible without close partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other development partners working in Kyrgyzstan.
Over the years working in Kyrgyzstan, Gunta has witnessed some great changes in society’s attitude towards maternal health. She recalls her visit to a maternity hospital in July.
“We met a father with his newborn child on his chest. He was lying in a hospital bed while his wife was still in the operating theatre following a caesarean section. The man joked about everything being great except that he could not breastfeed his newborn child.”
“It shows the changing attitudes,” explains Gunta. “10–12 years ago it was unimaginable that a man could even enter a maternity hospital. Instead people would shout through the windows telling the fathers about the birth of their children.”
Still more work to be done
The Kyrgyz government and WHO recognize that more work is needed, in particular to institutionalize effective sexual education in schools and improve the education of medical professionals.
Following policies and guidelines aligned with WHO and United Nations recommendations, it is critical to focus on implementation and monitoring, as well as to conduct research into what works on a national level, Gunta points out.
Although she is officially retiring at the end of August, Gunta is already preparing to participate in her first WHO conference as a non-WHO guest.
“Being part of WHO is a lifetime commitment. It is more than a job, it is a lifestyle,” she concludes.