“Though the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been touted as one of our nation’s most successful initiatives in global health (and certainly one of President George W. Bush’s most positive legacies) it continues to miss the mark” when it comes to family planning, global gender specialist and freelance writer Jessica Mack writes in KPLU 88.5’s “Humanosphere” blog. “The essential role of contraception, especially barrier methods, in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS is intuitive, obvious, and also well documented,” she writes. “While earlier PEPFAR rules did not specifically dictate whether or not funding could be used for contraceptive supplies, the language over the last few years has become increasingly restrictive on this point,” she continues, noting that PEPFAR’s recently released 2013 country operational plan (COP) forbids the use of PEPFAR funds to purchase family planning commodities. Mack concludes, “PEPFAR is simply flying directly in the face of the Global Health Initiative’s vision and the stated objectives of the Obama Administration” (10/25).
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
In the Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog, Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, notes that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the XIX International AIDS Conference in July that all women should be able to decide “when and whether to have children” and that PEPFAR, in a guidance [.pdf] released last week, said, “Voluntary family planning should be part of comprehensive quality care for persons living with HIV,” and referred to family planning as a human right. “Then, in bold type, they punctuated it with, ‘PEPFAR funds may not be used to purchase family planning commodities,'” she writes. “They take it a step further with a caveat that before anyone decides they’d like their program to have anything to do with family planning, they had best consult relevant U.S. legal counsel first,” she adds. “To be fair, they do say that PEPFAR programs can just refer women to a different program that offers family planning,” but those programs are not always available, Sippel writes, adding, “So the suggestion is flawed from the start.”
“If [Republican presidential nominee Gov.] Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, were to win next month’s election, the harm to women’s reproductive rights would extend far beyond the borders of the United States,” a New York Times editorial says. In the U.S., “they would support the recriminalization of abortion with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and they would limit access to contraception and other services,” according to the editorial, which adds “they have also promised to promote policies abroad that would affect millions of women in the world’s poorest countries, where lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and competent help at childbirth often results in serious illness and thousands of deaths yearly.”
The New York Times’ “IHT Rendezvous” blog examines factors contributing to the more than 13 million abortions that occur in China every year, the highest number of any country worldwide. Though China’s so-called “one-child policy” is a contributing factor, “with women coerced into aborting ‘out of plan’ children by the threat of heavy fines or the loss of a job — or, in some cases, physically forced to abort,” some “scholars are now pointing to a new factor — under-25 women who, if they are unmarried, do not directly fall within the remit of the family planners,” the blog writes. A recent survey by China’s Research Institute of the National Population and Family Planning Commission estimates six million abortions occur annually among this group, the blog adds. This highlights other issues, the blog notes, including young people’s increased sexual freedoms and a culture and tradition that remains reluctant to discuss sex education, leaving young women without the knowledge of how to use contraception. “Yet gradually, people are beginning to talk more openly about what had long often been discussed only in absolute privacy,” the blog writes and provides some examples (Tatlow, 10/19).
“Uruguay’s Congress voted narrowly on Wednesday to legalize abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a rare move in largely Catholic Latin America that underscores the country’s liberal leanings,” Reuters reports. “President Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla fighter, has said he would sign the bill into law,” the news service notes (Castaldi, 10/17). “[T]he bill approved by Uruguay’s Senate came after a pointed debate among legislators, producing a compromise that disappointed both abortion-rights groups and opponents, who have vowed to carry out a referendum to overturn the legislation,” the New York Times writes, adding, “Legislators carefully worded the bill, describing it not as legalization of abortion but as a decriminalization measure.” The newspaper writes, “The bill effectively legalizes abortion in the first trimester, permits abortion through 14 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape and allows later-term abortions when a woman’s health is at risk” (Romero et al., 10/17).
In an opinion piece in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, David Olson, a global health communications consultant who worked as a communications adviser to the Reproductive Health and Rights Alliance in Kenya earlier this year, describes how “abortion rights [in the country] have been liberalized in certain cases in a Constitution approved in a public referendum two years ago.” He continues, “The new constitution says clearly that ‘the life of a person begins at conception’ and ‘abortion is not permitted unless…'” Olson writes, “And that innocuous ‘unless’ is what keeps the abortion issue alive in Kenya, almost two years after the constitutional referendum: ‘…unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.'”
Aissata Sall Yade, a communications assistant for the Senegal Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, part of IntraHealth International, writes in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog about Aissatou Dia Fall, a head midwife at Senegal’s Gallo Dia Health Center in Yeumbeul, and her efforts to improve access to health care for women in the community. She has reached out to different organizations for monetary assistance for her clients, Yade notes, adding, “Strategies like Aissatou Dia Fall’s will help improve Senegal’s national contraceptive prevalence rate, which is currently only 12 percent. It will also help reduce one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates (410 deaths per 100,000 live births) and reduce the fertility rate (an average of five children per woman)” (10/17).
“During the first presidential debate, neither President [Barack] Obama nor [Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt] Romney addressed the issue that affects half the world’s population: women’s reproductive rights,” Musimbi Kanyoro, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Politics” blog. “As the two square off on foreign policy, women’s reproductive rights must be addressed because whomever becomes president will not only determine U.S. women’s personal, economic and educational choices, but also those of women worldwide,” she writes, adding, “The candidates’ positions on women’s reproductive rights couldn’t be starker.”
U.N. SG Says Eliminating Discrimination, Providing Nutrition, Health Care Will Help Women Care For Families
“Highlighting the role in women in producing much of the world’s food and caring for the environment, [U.N.] Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his message marking the International Day of Rural Women, [Monday] said that eliminating discrimination that prevents rural women from realizing their full potential is crucial to ending global hunger and poverty,” the U.N. News Centre reports (10/15). “In his message, Ban said rural women typically live without the guarantee of basic nutrition, health services, and necessities such as clean water and sanitation,” UPI writes. “When food and nutrition security are improved, rural women have more opportunities to find decent work and provide for the education and health of their children,” Ban said, according to UPI (10/15). VOA News reports on an initiative launched recently by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP), and U.N. Women, which aims “to speed economic empowerment and gender equality of rural women,” according to the news service (DeCapua, 10/15).
“Between 1970 and 2010, most emerging countries achieved impressive gains in contraceptive coverage,” but, “[b]y contrast, many sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries … have started their contraceptive revolution very late and progress to date has been minimal,” John May, a visiting fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), and Jean-Pierre Guengant, researcher emeritus at the Research Institute for Development (IRD) in Marseille, France, write in CGD’s “Global Health Policy” blog. “The widespread belief in SSA that ‘development was the best contraceptive’ has been the major reason why countries did not launch organized family planning programs,” they write, adding, “By and large, the lack of progress in contraceptive coverage has precluded significant decreases in fertility in the region” (10/11).