Population Services International

Dr. Gro Brundtland with Trinidad Covarrubias

You’ve talked a lot about health as a human right. How do you fold health into the work you do with the Elders-inspired Every Human Has Rights campaign?

DR. GRO BRUNDTLAND: The Elders bring a human rights outlook to all of their work, and I would say that our campaign to end child marriage has a strong health element to it. Among the most serious consequences of child marriage is its impact on a girl’s health. Child brides are often pressured to prove their fertility before their bodies are ready for childbearing: girls under 15 years old are six times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s. Girls under 18 are also at much higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries such as fistulas. Ending child marriage would have a significant impact on the health of many young women.

During your last visit to South Africa with the Elders, you said you wanted to “inspire the conviction that we all can make a difference.” What is your advice to people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start?

GB: I would say that the best place to start would be to use the skills that you have already. You don’t have to be a politician, or indeed a doctor, to be able to make a difference in your community. We each have our own strengths to contribute – it is a question of thinking how best to harness these for the benefit of others.

What do you hope the Elders leave behind as a legacy?

GB: I don’t know whether this can be termed our legacy, but I think that there is a role to play for the Elders in providing a principled voice on key global issues. In our recent statement on Sri Lanka, we expressed our concern about alleged violations of international humanitarian law and criticized the international community for its ‘deafening global silence’ in response. We wanted to remind the international community that it cannot be selective in its response to human rights violations, and we wanted to remind the Sri Lankan government of its responsibility to all its citizens, including its minority populations. Perhaps in the future people will look back and acknowledge that we were bold and that we dared to speak out.

I'm Trinidad, a 23-year-old medical student from Santiago de Chile and the youngest of six siblings. Since I can remember I have been working with vulnerable communities in Chile. I learned this from my parents who instilled in me a vision of the world that highlighted the importance of giving back to my community.

The hope for equality has inspired and driven me from the beginning. I was deeply affected by the existence of people who are suffering and deprived of opportunities by a lack of resources. This is what led me to pursue a career in medicine, which will give me the ability to continue working for those in need.

In addition, I co-founded Acercando Salud (Approaching Health), a non-governmental organization dedicated to working with vulnerable people in the poorest communities of Santiago and Iloca, which was devastated by the tsunami last February. Our mission is to contribute to equality through the promotion of health, education, training and development of social health networks.

Understanding the importance of networks, we have been working with universities and public and private stakeholders to engage more people in our cause. We also have created large-scale events, such as a health congress and workshops to draw attention to the connection between poverty and sickness.

Moving forward, I plan to expand Acercando Salud and strengthen its mission and objectives. I wake up each day and want to continue what I have been doing. I strive to achieve new ideas while being aware of the circumstances, and always try my best to be objective, sincere and a good leader.

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