Global Health Matters

Marie-Chantal Umunyana speaks to the strength of safe spaces in healthcare for Women

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This article was originally published on Africa Young Innovators for Health Award on 29 March 2022.

Marie-Chantal Umunyana joins IFPMA and HYPER‘s virtual discussion on: “The Importance of Diversity & Equal Opportunities in a Healthy R&D Environment – Workplace & Organizational Culture.”  The discussion convened both young and senior leaders to identify and present initiatives by the pharmaceutical industry linked to creating and sustaining communities of belonging amongst youth that deliver solutions to patients and reach underserved communities.

Marie-Chantal, founder of Umubyeyi Elevate and participant of the Women Innovators Incubator, was joined by: Laura Adams, Global Programme Manager, Young Health Programme, Plan International UK; Sharon Olmstead, Global Head, Regulatory & Development Policy, Novartis; Rocio Martinez Perez, Research and Development Project Coordinator, UCB; and Courtney Sunna, Global Community Investment & Philanthropy Manager, AstraZeneca, who moderated the event.

Leading the discussion from the lower- to middle-income countries’ (LMICs) perspective, Marie Chantal, highlighted the need to create safe spaces to encourage information exchange between women while providing psychological support. She went on to explain that the safe spaces created by Umubyeyi have helped soon-to-be mothers and mothers express themselves freely and share their real-life, personal experiences to help one another.

Marie-Chantal also spoke to the importance of leveraging technology to improve access to maternal health information, since those in LMICs face challenges in accessing healthcare. Marie-Chantal explained that Umubyeyi uses technology to ensure women have easier access to more information about their maternal and reproductive health. “We are making evidence-based health information accessible to people from trusted sources using social media and web applications.” She believes that, given technology is an integral part of all of our lives, it can be used to improve maternal health.

Sharon Olmstead, Global Head, Regulatory & Development Policy, Novartis, shared her views on the need for diversity in clinical trials and referred to how technology can be an enabler. “As Marie-Chantal discussed, technology and social media can be enablers, reaching patients more inclusively and in ways we haven’t previously considered.”

Marie-Chantal also called on the healthcare sector to do more to ensure that mothers can access the healthcare they need wherever they are in Africa. She explains, “There is a need for pharmaceutical companies to guarantee and ensure new technology and treatments are available globally? to address preventable causes of mortality.”

Speaking in support of safe spaces in a broader context, Laura Adams, Global Programme Manager, Young Health Programme, Plan International UK, further described safe spaces as those, “in which people can discuss their experiences and understand what the people who need that safe space will need to feel safe in that environment.”

“To create a safe space it is important to create this sense of belonging”’  added Rocio Martinez Perez, Research and Development Project Coordinator, UCB. “We have to make room for young talent who are born in the digital era. As a newcomer in pharma, I think change comes from everywhere. We need to make sure all voices are heard and everyone is represented”

Rocio also noted that her organization created two initiatives, called Guide Me and Explorer, to create a more welcoming environment for young people. . “Guide Me is a mentoring program for those in senior positions, while, in the Explorer program, you can work in a different department for three months to discover something you might like since we’re seeing less and less linear careers,” she noted.

In closing, Courtney Sunna, Global Community Investment & Philanthropy Manager, AstraZeneca, circled back to gender equity and the need to support more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). “I know that young women have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, more likely to have disruptions to their education and less likely to access healthcare. As a result, they are less likely to enter the workforce, which can impact their careers and economic opportunities globally. So, let’s all support women in STEM.”

About HYPER

HYPER (Healthcare: Youth Perspectives. EmpoweRed) is a group dedicated to empowering, connecting, and mobilizing young leaders and future decision-makers in the life-science industry. Launched in 2020, HYPER focuses on areas of relevance for young professionals in the biopharmaceutical sector, from innovation to industry footprint to sustainability and supports the emergence of a new generation of industry leaders that can master core global health issues early on in their careers and help amplify industry messages.

About The Women Innovators Incubator

The Women Innovators Incubator is an initiative led by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa to bridge the gap in women-led innovation in Africa and address the additional barriers they face in taking their business ideas from concept to implementation. The program aims to develop the scientific innovation and entrepreneurial capabilities of the beneficiaries so that they can take their innovations to the next level through financial support, business mentorship, media training and IPR advice.

About IFPMA

IFPMA represents research-based pharmaceutical companies and associations across the globe. Research-based pharmaceutical companies make a unique contribution to global health as innovators of lifesaving and life-changing medicines and vaccines, which improve millions of lives around the world. Based in Geneva, IFPMA has official relations with the United Nations and contributes industry expertise to help the global health community find solutions that improve global health.

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