Soka Moses: a champion for women leaders in health
As a newly-qualified doctor, Soka Moses risked his life to stay behind and help with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Shortly afterwards, he came to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where he completed a Masters’ Degree in the Control of Infectious Diseases. Dr Moses spoke with Elmien Wolvaardt Ellison about his experiences and the importance of involving women in decision making about health.
During the Ebola outbreak, you worked side-by-side with your colleagues in terrible circumstances. What was the impact on the women you worked with?
These women were phenomenal people. Although there is really no difference between males and females when it comes to their risk of becoming infected with Ebola, the challenges women faced – socially and culturally – were far greater than those faced by men.
Ninety per cent of our nurses are women, and the majority of the doctors are also female. They had to be there to provide care for patients, protect themselves from becoming occupationally infected, while at the same time providing care for their families and preventing them from becoming infected. When women became infected, it meant that the care of their families were compromised.
So, on the front line, women were in the majority to take the bullets: to deal with the most infectious patients, and to assist women who were giving birth.
Liberia had the first elected female leader in Africa, Dr Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Are things getting better for women in your country?
Liberia is working to create a more inclusive society, but there are many fundamental challenges that remain. Fewer women are educated and there are still issues about violence against women. These are the kinds of challenges that women face. We know from our experience that when women take on a leadership role, they do far better than men. Their output is better, and they create a more inclusive and democratic society. But we still need to do a lot of work to educate, empower and strengthen women so that they are able to take on a leadership role and contribute.
Do you think men need to be educated as part of this effort to empower women?
You cannot leave men out of this because most of the leaders are men. So, if you want to want to change the system you need to educate men so that they are able to create the opportunities to bring more women on board, while at the same time educating women and strengthening them so that they can take on leadership roles and perform them adequately, effectively and efficiently.
You speak very passionately about women working in health care and health leadership. Why does this matter so much to you?
I didn’t learn to see a world that was defined by the differences between men and women; I’ve always seen them as being very equal. I grew up in a household dominated by strong women, particularly my grandmother. I’ve also had the opportunity to work alongside people from all over the world during the Ebola outbreak and to study at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where gender equality is prioritised: it is talked about openly in conversations, among friends and on the courses we did. I understood that, if we wanted to improve our health systems, we had to prioritise care for women.
Gender equality is a human rights issue. For the genders to be equal, leadership also has to be equal. We need an equal number of men and women making the decisions that affect our health.
What are you hoping to achieve at the women leaders in global health conference?
I want to let everybody know that issues about health affect women most, particularly in Africa, and that the decision makers must be the people affected by these issues. This needs to be said at the conference, and we also need to take this message home so that it can influence our own countries.
I want to tell people that we need to give women opportunities to participate in leadership. When women are leaders, leadership is more effective, there is less competition, there is more efficiency and there is more democracy. We saw that during the Ebola outbreak with our president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, our minister of health, Dr Bernice Dahn, and the many other nurses who were standing on the front lines with us. They were equally capable and competent and they made good quality decisions. There is no reason that we cannot give them the opportunity to lead.
Dr Soka Moses will be speaking at the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference 2018 in London. Some sessions of the conference will be livestreamed – please visit our Watch Live page to find out more, and join the conversation on social media using #WLGH18.
About Elmien Wolvaardt
Elmien Wolvaardt is the Editor-in-Chief of the Community Eye Health Journal, an international publication for health workers, clinicians and policy makers responsible for eye health and the prevention of blindness in low- and middle-income countries. The Journal is published by the International Centre for Eye Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and is distributed free of charge in print and electronic formats, in three languages, to over 23,000 readers in 134 countries, thanks to the generous support of charitable organisations and foundations.