Webinar: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – Reaching the Communities Left Furthest Behind
Watch here: https://youtu.be/uVtHxJGHtJo
- Dr. William Moss, International Vaccine Access Center
- Ms. Bujela Nokunceda, MP, Eswatini, Interparliamentary Union (IPU)
- Ms. Khalila Mbowe, Country Director, Girl Effect Tanzania
- Ms. Sonia Ancellin-Panzani, Head of Country Action, Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN)
- Ms. Anamaria Bejar, Director of Public Policy Engagement, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to reach marginalized communities around the world, stalling or even reversing decades of progress toward Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This makes it even harder to fulfill the SDGs’ commitment to leave no one behind. For example, the total number of Zero-Dose children–those who have not a received a single dose of any vaccine–grew from 13.3 million to 18.2 million between 2019 and 2021. These children are often clustered in vulnerable and marginalized communities that lack access to basic services and resources like healthcare, education, and adequate nutrition. To learn more about how the pandemic has affected these communities and discuss the best ways to reach them with these essential services, the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) hosted a webinar in collaboration with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The webinar featured a panel of speakers representing various sectors including immunization, education, nutrition, and women’s empowerment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected already-marginalized groups.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the world, but the most vulnerable groups have been particularly affected. One such group is women and girls, who have had limited access to sexual and reproductive health services. “The effect of the pandemic has not been gender-neutral,” said Khalila Mbowe, Country Director of Girl Effect Tanzania, who shared her experience engaging with communities at the local level. “We have rolled back hard-won gains that have been made toward gender equality over the years.” Girls have been more likely to drop out of school to take on family caregiving responsibilities and gender-based violence has spiked. Millions of women and girls have lost access to contraceptives, resulting in unintended pregnancies, and progress in HPV vaccine coverage has been lost. To move past these challenges, Mbowe said, we need to involve women and girls in the conversation and focus on shifting gender norms.
In addition to addressing the internal barriers to these services for girls and women, there is also work to be done at the government level. Bujela Nokunceda, an MP in Eswatini and a member of the Interparliamentary Union, spoke about the role that governments should play in supporting marginalized communities through advocacy work and policy reform. “As parliamentarians, there’s a lot of work that we have to do to advocate for sexual and reproductive health on behalf of our communities, to create opportunities for inclusivity, to make sure laws protect people with disabilities,” she said. Nokunceda also emphasized that those affected by policy decisions should be engaged in the development of those policies to ensure their needs are being met.
Multi-sectoral collaboration is the best way to reach those left behind.
Since Zero-Dose children are often clustered in underserved communities and typically lack access to other essential services, the most efficient and effective way to leave no one behind is to take a multi-sectoral approach to targeting Zero-Dose children. By bringing together governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector, we can reach these communities without duplicating our efforts, said Sonia Ancellin-Panzani, Head of Country Action for Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN). One way to do that is to co-deliver services from across various sectors at the global, national, and sub-national levels.
This strategy was echoed by Anamaria Bejar, Gavi’s Director of Public Policy Engagement. “It’s not only bringing vaccination to children, but also the full range of services to the community through primary health care, education, and nutrition,” Bejar said. Immunization programs often reach more households than any other routine services and are therefore a great platform to bring these hard-to-reach communities into contact with the health system, and these opportunities should be leveraged to provide other needed services.
To get back on track toward achieving SDGs, we need to identify and engage marginalized communities in decision-making. One effective approach to do so is to prioritize reaching Zero-Dose children. These speakers have demonstrated how working in partnership across sectors and levels to integrate and co-deliver essential services are key steps that will allow us to address current inequities and reach those left furthest behind.