My name is Diviya Leonard and I am a 16-year-old high school student who is incredibly passionate about ensuring equal access to healthcare for all women and girls around the world. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Conference on Global Health as a youth ambassador with Plan International Canada and it was a truly eye-opening experience.
As a Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) advocate with Plan International Canada, I have been learning about the barriers that millions of women face when accessing healthcare. It continues to astonish me that the second leading cause of death for girls aged 15-19 worldwide is complications surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. I am very passionate about Plan International Canada’s Change the Birth Story campaign that is working to advocate for the needs of girls, women, and their children internationally. Over the past year, I have been working to collect 1000 endorsements from Canadians pledging their support to the Change the Birth story campaign. Travelling to Ottawa for the Canadian Conference on Global Health allowed me to reignite my passion and learn more about how gender intersects with health. Here are my top 5 favourite moments and key takeaways from the conference:
1. Gaining an understanding of the many stakeholders involved in global health
Before attending the conference, I mainly associated doctors and medical professionals with the health care system. However, I was able to see that researchers, professors, non-profit workers, and are all working hard in this industry. It was very interesting for me to see how many people are involved with these issues and are working to ensure equal access for everyone.
2. Networking with like-minded people
It was very inspiring for me to be surrounded by so many like-minded people who are all making a big impact in the global health community. One of my favourite moments was hearing Shakira Choonara speak during the plenary discussion on the first morning where she boldly illustrated the importance of leaving no one behind in healthcare. She did this by blindfolding her fellow panelists and allowing them to experience a few moments as someone who was visually impaired. I loved having the opportunity to hear Shakira speak and it was amazing to be able to meet her and talk about our shared interests.
3. Learning about the importance of proper data and research
Many of the sessions at the conference highlighted the importance of proper, accurate, and current data relating to maternal, newborn, and child health. During one of the workshops, I learned that one third of the world’s births and one third of the world’s deaths are incorrectly recorded. I now understand that in order to enact real change, we need to understand the information we are working with.
4. Discovering new passions
One of my favourite workshops during the conference focused on mental health and well-being. During this session we participated in mindfulness activities and learned about the global burden of mental illness. After leaving that session, I realized that mental health is a topic I want to learn more about and make more of an effort to improve.
5. Understanding the importance of MNCH advocacy
Throughout the conference, my passion for eradicating the issues that women face around the world was deepened. Taking part in the different sessions and workshops has deepened my commitment to ensuring access to healthcare for mothers and children across the world. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend this conference and I am looking forward to continuing to educate Canadians about the importance of these issues!