Celebrating Women Leaders Inspiring Contribution Towards Advancing Universal Health Coverage

JLN Network Manager

Authors: Isha Sharma, Rahul S Reddy Kadarpeta and Jane Nyambura 

Leadership by women at all levels of the health system has played a pivotal role in advancing universal health coverage worldwide. Women leaders have pioneered the art of embracing collaboration and empathy, pivotal to bringing together various stakeholders to work on common goals. Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage (JLN) nurtures these values and benefits from collective thinking and problem solving to co-produce several knowledge products that support the design of innovative policies and implement strategic initiatives across the world. JLN has ensured that the contributions of women policymakers and practitioners within the network are always respected and celebrated. On 8 March 2024, International Women’s Day, we held a webinar to share the remarkable contributions of women leaders at JLN in advocating for UHC around the globe. As a collective acknowledgement of the resilience, leadership, and passion of women in healthcare, this blog highlights the learnings from the webinar which featured Dr Nguyen Khanh Phuong, Director, Health Strategy & Policy Institute, Ministry of Health, Vietnam, Mrs Vivian Addo-Cobbiah, Former, Deputy Chief Executive, Operations, National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Ghana, Dr. Elizabeth Wangia, Ag. Director, Health Financing, Ministry of Health Kenya.

Vivian and her colleagues at the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and the Ministry of Health in Ghana have been an integral part of the JLN since 2010. At NHIA, her contributions have been instrumental in establishing an accreditation system for health facilities, ensuring adherence to specific healthcare quality standards at credentialed facilities and Clinical and Compliance Audits for NHIA. Additionally, as one of the authors of the JLN knowledge product on Medical Audits, she witnessed the transformative impact of refining medical audit targets, processes and outcomes through successful adaptation and implementation of the JLN Tool on developing and Strengthen Medical Audit Systems. Vivian emphasizes that her JLN experience not only inspired her to intensify her efforts but also reinforced her dedication to advancing Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Ghana.

Dr Phuong has been affiliated with JLN since 2010. Her involvement in the JLN Provider Payment Collaborative, along with support from the member countries of the network, facilitated strategic recommendations for nationwide provider payment system reform in Vietnam. The reform coupled with the adoption of the Health Insurance Law, marked a significant milestone in the nation’s health systems strengthening journey. She expressed, “The JLN has been a source of inspiration and empowerment for me, providing a platform for learning, knowledge-sharing, and accessing resources from across the globe. By leveraging the expertise and experiences of other member countries, we were able to tailor solutions to address Vietnam’s specific healthcare challenges effectively.”

Dr Liz, utilizing her leadership expertise within clinical practice and policy units in Kenya, began her involvement with JLN during the COVID-19 pandemic. Engaging in various learning exchange activities, she supported Kenya’s efforts in combating the pandemic, drawing upon the collective wisdom of JLN member countries. This experience fueled her interest and strengthened her dedication to leveraging global insights for local impact, particularly evident in her ongoing engagement with the JLN Digital Health Collaborative to advance primary healthcare services through technology. She remarked, “By harnessing the collective wisdom and experiences of stakeholders at national and subnational levels, we can accelerate progress towards our shared goal of achieving equitable, accessible, and quality healthcare for every individual in Kenya.”

All three women leaders acknowledged that their contributions are inspired by other women leaders, who have played pivotal roles in driving transformative change in improving health systems, paving the way for them to continue this path. Liz mentions being motivated by Ms Susan Nakhumicha, Minister of Health, Kenya, whose leadership led to the enactment of UHC legislation, including the Social Health Insurance Act and the Innovative Primary Health Act. The women governors of the 7 counties (of a total of 47 counties in Kenya) have prioritized health within their jurisdictions and provided perspectives aligning with the diverse needs of local contexts. She adds “When women occupy leadership roles at national and subnational levels, they transcend individual roles to work collectively and this ability to navigate between different levels of government facilitates unity and cooperation, for the common good and benefit of all.”

Vivian shares her admiration for Dr.   Lydia Dsane-Selby, (distinguished medical doctor and former CEO, NHIA), Dr. Martha Ghansa-Lutterodt, (Chief Pharmacist and former Director, Technical Coordination at the Ministry of Health), and Dr. Cynthia Bannerman (Public health specialist and former Director Quality Assurance, Ghana Health Service), women leaders in Health from Ghana who have shaped her health systems thinking and career. They ensured that there was space for all women to grow. She adds “We collaborated cohesively to achieve substantial progress within Ghana’s health sector institutions, a practice we should uphold. Rather than regarding ourselves as rivals vying for space, we should prioritize working in harmony and peace. By maintaining this approach, I am confident that women will continue to make remarkable advancements.”

Dr. Phuong draws inspiration from visionary leaders like Nguyễn Thị Kim Tiến, former Minister of Health with great enthusiasm for health reform such as hospital fee policy, hospital quality improvement and Madame Đào Hồng Lan, the current Minister of Health, whose leadership brought together the Ministry and other government sectors to prioritize healthcare needs and find solutions in the post-pandemic period amidst resource shortages.

These JLN leaders also advocated for women to embrace change and perceive challenges as opportunities for personal and professional growth. They stressed the importance of utilizing available support and resources to continuously enhance skills and demonstrate capabilities. Mentorship plays a crucial role in guiding young women through their careers and fostering personal development.

“A proactive approach not only helps women gain recognition but also opens doors to new opportunities, allowing us to become even stronger versions of ourselves,” – Phoung

“By seeking out mentorship opportunities, women can benefit from the wisdom, guidance, and experience of other women who have already paved the way. Women in positions to provide guidance have a responsibility to offer support and mentorship to the next generation, sharing their knowledge and insights to help younger women succeed.” – Vivian

The personal stories of these women leaders, showcasing their achievements and contributions to the pursuit of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), along with the benefits they have gained as part of the JLN community, serve as motivating inspiration. They underscore the resilience derived from other women leaders, offering encouragement for aspiring young women leaders in healthcare and beyond. These narratives emphasize the importance of creating professional spaces that promote gender diversity and inclusion, culminating in key action points and the pivotal role of networks like JLN in advancing these objectives.


The Authors are grateful to all three women leaders who participated in the webinar titled “ Empowering Voices, Inspiring Change: Celebrating Women Leaders at the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage(JLN)” held on 8 March 2024 between 6-7 pm EAT.   Dr Nguyen Khanh Phuong, Director, Health Strategy & Policy Institute, Ministry of Health, Vietnam, Mrs Vivian Addo-Cobbiah, Former, Deputy Chief Executive, Operations, National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Ghana, Dr. Elizabeth Wangia, Ag. Director, Health Financing, Ministry of Health Kenya. This webinar was moderated by Dr Mahlet Gizaw, JLN Health Specialist, The World Bank.

About the Authors: Isha and Jane are the program officers at JLN, and Rahul is the Executive Director, at JLN