Corporate Responsibility

Sandoz recognizes International Day of Rural Women

October 15, 2013 - Today, the world observes International Day of Rural Women, bringing awareness to the critical role and contribution rural women make to eradicating poverty and improving living conditions worldwide. The United Nations officially established this international day five years ago to highlight rural women’s contribution to agricultural development and food security for the global rural population.

To highlight some of the current challenges facing rural women, as well as the progress being made to improve rural healthcare, Sandoz interviewed three of its leaders in Africa to gain an on-the-ground perspective in South Africa, Zambia and Ethiopia.

carnie_van_der_linde.JPG Carnie van der Linde (CL) is the Country Head Southern and Eastern Africa
chilumba_b.jpg Chilumba Bwalya (CB) is the Sandoz Country Head of Zambia
l_reina.JPG Ludmilla Reina (LR) is the Sandoz Country Head Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibuti & Somalia

In relation to healthcare in rural areas of your country, how important a role do women play?

CL: In South Africa, women are caregivers in many communities. Often, there are home-based care facilities for HIV positive and terminally ill people. Many rural areas in South Africa also have clinics and hospitals which provide primary healthcare.

CB: A woman in Zambia is a very important role model in terms of healthcare. She is usually the one who takes responsibility for caring for the sick. This means she is the one who makes sure the sick person takes required medicine and continuously monitors the progress of her patient. In more ways than one, it is the woman who has the soul and heart to see to it that full recovery and healing are achieved.

LR: The woman’s role in Ethiopia is critical because she is the one taking care of the whole family. Unfortunately, many women are not recognized and often still abused. There are some organizations raising awareness of this and providing support, such as coaching and support groups for mothers and the Health Development Women Army.

What are some of the biggest challenges rural women face when it comes to securing healthcare in your country?

CL: The biggest challenge in South Africa is the distance needed to travel to the nearest clinic or hospital. Rural women rely on each other for support and assistance. Traditional medicine and home remedies become alternatives, and western medicine is sought if they are still not feeling better. The cost of travel to the facilities is a significant barrier.

CB: The lack of quality healthcare facilities in Zambia is a significant challenge. Rural women have to depend on traditional methods to address several healthcare challenges at the same time, because there are not many options available to them. Access to quality healthcare largely does not exist.

LR: The health facilities in Ethiopia are often far away from rural areas. There are also cultural challenges facing rural women in Ethiopia, such as, the woman in the family eats last, if any food even remains. There are a lot of organizations and NGOs working to improve the issue. Sandoz Ethiopia is currently planning a healthcare program focusing on maternal and child health.

What progress is being made to better the situation?

CL: With the availability of clinics and hospitals, the South African government has deployed Cuban doctors into many rural clinics and hospitals as part of an agreement with the Cuban government. The exchange program also enables South African students to train in Cuba and complete their final year of medical training in South Africa.

CB: The Zambian Government has increased expenditure and investment in the development of healthcare infrastructure and the training of healthcare professionals. Even though this is a great thing to do, it is only a drop in the ocean as there remains a lot of work to be done in this area.

LR: The Ethiopian Ministry of Health has ruled against many abuses women commonly face, for example, in the form of marriage and pregnancy at a very young age. New healthcare structures are being put in place to support the health of pregnant women. Improvements to education are also being made. But much work remains. As Sandoz in Ethiopia, we can support improving the implementation of healthcare through Health Extension Workers and by making important medicines available and accessible.

How can Sandoz contribute to improving the health of women in rural areas?

CL: In South Africa, Sandoz works to ensure access to affordable medicines. Sandoz plans to work with the South African government on a distribution model that will ensure women and patients in rural areas are never turned away because their medicine is not available. The Scooter Project in the Eastern Cape (Sandoz sponsored) is aimed at assisting healthcare professionals reach communities and ensure patient compliance when taking medication for chronic illnesses.

CB: Increasing access to high-quality drugs and making essential drugs affordable to the lowest-income population through distribution strategies that work in these communities. What will truly help improve rural healthcare in Zambia are accessibility, affordability and availability of essential medicines in the rural areas.

LR: As Sandoz in Ethiopia, we must continue working with NGOs and to build our Corporate Responsibility programs. We have to work with the communities to educate women and the entire community.

What do you hope to see happen in the next 5, 10, 15 years, in relation to the health of rural women in your country?

CL: In South Africa, I want to see a nation where healthcare is readily and freely available to everyone, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances. I want to see a decline in the high maternal and child mortality rates. The proposed South Africa National Health Insurance plan is aimed at providing better access to healthcare.

CB: I would like to see both Sandoz and the Zambian government continue to collaborate in increasing accessibility, affordability and availability of medicines to the rural woman.

LR: I want the most important healthcare messages to be understood by the communities here in Ethiopia. Rural women need to be aware of their health, and know that many diseases can be prevented or cured, if treated early.


For more information on the International Day of Rural Women, visit the United Nations website:


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