Interview with Dr Ranee Thakar, Senior Vice President for Global Health reflecting on her tenure as Vice President for Global Health
How would you describe your tenure as Vice President for Global Health?
My tenure as Senior Vice President for Global Health certainly was not how I imagined or planned it to be. The COVID-19 pandemic came as a shock to many of us and radically changed the way we work and collaborate. However, with these challenges came some surprising opportunities.
I had expected to meet global members in person during my time as VP, which wasn’t possible. However, using virtual means of communication interaction with our international members and fellows actually improved - a silver lining to a dark cloud.
We have been working hard to tailor our membership offerings to members in different regions; no more one size fits all. We have also worked to bring our international members into the core work of the college ensuring we are strengthening representation in guidelines, at Congress, in webinars and of course in our global health programmes. The International Representative Committees (IRCs), groups of committed international members acting as the liaison between members in their country and the College who seek their views and ensure that the Committee represents all members’ professional and clinical interests, have been key to ensuring this representation. I am immensely proud of having been able to establish collaborative frameworks with the IRCs during my time as Vice President.
What are some of the main highlights of your time as Global Health VP?
Working with global health programme champions: I have had the opportunity to work with Members and Fellows and other healthcare professionals as advocacy Champions on the Making Abortion Safe and Gynaecological Health Matters programmes to improve access to critical sexual, reproductive and gynaecological healthcare in Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sudan and Sierra Leone. The two programmes aim to ensure the health workforce is supported with context appropriate, gold standard training materials wherever they are, to provide quality, evidence based, sexual and reproductive health care. Working with RCOG staff on global advocacy on these issues has been very impactful and rewarding. Moving forward as President, I will continue the focus on how we can provide equitable and quality services to women with respectful care in both high- and low-income settings.
Developing quality learning materials and resources: The Best Practice Papers and Making Abortion Safe Online Learning materials are exceptional, high quality and very clear resources and I am really happy I had the opportunity to work on these. We have just published two new Best Practice Papers, one in post-abortion contraception, which sets out how health workers can facilitate non-stigmatising conversations to provide post-abortion contraception counselling. The other in telemedicine for abortion care, which is so timely and outlines how to run a quality telemedicine abortion service. We know from our experience in the UK how the telemedicine abortion pathway is safe and effective and has expanded access to abortion care. My hope is that the new BPP will inspire colleagues across the world to consider if and how a telemedicine abortion service might expand access to care in their context as well.
Utilising the clinical voice of the College to advocate for global SRHR funding: This last year has seen us work with Parliamentarians, Members and Fellows and other Royal Colleges to influence the UK government on cuts to overseas development assistance that have badly hit SRHR programmes and services across the world. As part of this I represented the College at the 2022 Tory party conference. Ensuring we are able to share our international members stories and experiences on this incredibly important issue should continue to be core to our activities.
Prioritising gynaecological health around the world: The Gynaecological Health Matters programme is one I am very passionate about. It delivers training on high-quality, respectful gynaecological care for nurses and newly recruited non-specialist doctors providing sexual and reproductive health services to women and girls, and advocates for greater prioritisation of this as a critical women’s health and rights issue. The lack of political priority given to benign gynaecological conditions, particularly in low and middle-income countries is resulting in a large burden of unrecognised morbidity, leading to enormous preventable suffering and poor quality of life. I know of a case, which is far from unique, where a young girl named Aisha was unable to go to school because of heavy periods and lack of access to treatment. This limited her education and in turn affected her life chances; her income, marriage and social mobility. I am greatly committed to developing this work further in other contexts, to ensure girls like Aisha do not miss out on education and life opportunities because of easily treatable gynaecological health matters.
What is your vision for global health work as incoming president of the RCOG?
RCOG is only as strong as its members, we have almost 16000 and a little under half of those members are based overseas. It is a privilege to work with so many experts who are making a real difference in their fields and to the lives of women and girls. As president of the RCOG I plan to continue to support the voices of our international members in all of our core work, scaling up our advocacy aiming to tackle the systemic barriers our international members and fellows face when trying to provide quality, evidence-based care, all so we can improve women’s healthcare everywhere. To all our members I want to say, we are listening and we want you to get involved in the important work of the College, we want you to share your challenges and opportunities. Together we can achieve a lot, far more than just one president can.