Three Task Force representatives join the 65th session of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women from March 15 – 26. The commission is the principal global intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The Task Force has consultative status with the UN. Angela Hilmers, Chief Scientist for the Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET); Waithera Kagira-Watson, Associate Program Director for the Neglected Tropical Diseases Support Center; and Lesley Guyot, Associate Director of Programs for TEPHINET, will represent The Task Force at the virtual meeting. Below is The Task Force’s statement on the issues of this year’s meeting.
The importance of strong national public health systems has become clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. Crucial to national systems are the “disease detectives” within Ministries of Health and National Public Health Institutes who rapidly identify new disease outbreaks and develop and execute complex strategies to stop their spread and save lives.
Our world will benefit from having more female “detectives” – not only to improve their access to this highly-respected career path, but also to ensure that their voices and perspectives influence policy development and implementation at all levels of government and the non-profit and private sectors.
The Task Force’s Training Programs in Epidemiology and Public Health Interventions Network (TEPHINET) is a global professional network of field epidemiology training programs (FETPs) working across more than 100 countries. In partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, TEPHINET trained about 1,100 women in 51 programs, including those in Sub-Saharan African, Southeast Asia and Central America in 2018. Data from 2019 and 2020 are still being collected. Last year our mobilization team trained 103 FETP trainees and alumni in emergency response in partnership with the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network; 37 of those were women.
Public health and women’s rights are closely intertwined. Public health practitioners, in recent years (including a 2020 Lancet Commission) have begun to seriously examine the role of gender in our field, and the real need to begin to set targets for and measure the impact of our work to ensure that increasing gender equity is one result.
We strongly support this effort. Women’s perspectives and talents are needed to ensure inclusive and equitable decision-making on all levels of public health. Training more female “disease detectives” is an important way to foster a clear path to leadership in a career that improves the quality of life for all citizens. This should be everyone’s goal.