“Women working as female health care volunteers [FHCVs] often provide a vital service for the poorest in mountainous Nepal, and have contributed to a steady improvement in maternal and neonatal survival rates,” IRIN reports. In Nepal, 52,000 FHCVs work nationwide, often in remote regions, to refer women and children to health centers and help raise money for their trips, according to the news service. Many experts believe the FHCVs have played a key role in reducing Nepal’s maternal mortality ratio and increasing the proportion of births attended by a skilled birth attendant or that take place in a health facility, IRIN notes. “The FCHV program was launched in 1988 in 19 districts in the mid-west (Nepal’s poorest region), with the purpose of improving maternal and neonatal care, according to the Health Ministry,” IRIN writes, adding, “Despite being regarded as key to the state’s public health program, the government provides them with virtually no support” (10/5).
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
IRIN examines unsafe abortion and access to contraceptives in Kenya, writing, “Despite the medical risks associated with unsafe abortions, many women in Kenya continue to seek these services. Experts say only a scale-up of access to, and promotion of, contraceptives among sexually active women can reduce it.” According to the news service, “[e]xperts say that for practical purposes, the government must do more to enable women and girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies.” The 2009 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey showed that about one-quarter of married women in Kenya “have an unmet need for family planning — they would like to space their children or stop having children but are not using any form of contraception,” IRIN notes. According to the news service, “Shahnaz Sharif, director of public health, told IRIN the government was working to increase awareness and uptake of contraceptives” (10/3).
Integrating reproductive health and other services, such as HIV care, “makes sense, and there is emerging evidence that it can be associated with a host of benefits, such as improved uptake of services, enhanced program efficiency, and even improved health outcomes when compared to separate services,” Gavin Yamey, who leads E2Pi in the Global Health Group at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), and Craig Cohen, a professor in-residence in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, write in the PLoS blog “Speaking of Medicine.” They describe five key themes that emerged last month at the Integration for Impact conference, co-hosted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute, the Kenyan government, and UCSF. They write, “The emphasis was on presenting the latest research findings, exploring the policy implications of this evidence, and laying out the unanswered research questions,” and describe the five themes, including keeping human rights at the forefront and better defining and measuring integration (10/3).
Family Planning Experts Launch Task Force In Support Of International Conference On Population And Development Goals
“Gathered at the Ford Foundation in New York Monday, international luminaries, family planning experts and women’s rights activists” gathered “to mark the launch of a new 26-member high-level task force to galvanize support behind the goals of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD),” Inter Press Service reports, adding, “That conference took place nearly two decades ago, in Cairo, Egypt in 1994” and “resulted in a Programme of Action that become the guiding document for the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.”
Experts Worried Political Commitment, Health Services Delivery Still Lacking Despite Efforts To Improve Family Planning In Uganda
“Family planning advocates in Uganda have scored some major financial and policy wins this year, but experts remain concerned that inadequate political commitment and poor health services will continue to impede women’s and girls’ access to contraceptives,” IRIN reports. With one of the fastest growing populations in the world, Uganda’s “President Yoweri Museveni announced that his government would increase its annual expenditure on family planning supplies from $3.3 million to $5 million for the next five years” and he “pledged to mobilize an additional $5 million from the country’s donors,” the news service writes. In addition, the “Ministry of Health has laid out a roadmap for providing universal access to family planning, involving the integration of family planning into other health services,” the news service notes.
Reuters examines how Philippine President Benigno Aquino is supporting “a reproductive health bill that will, if passed by the two houses of Congress, guarantee access to free birth control and promote sex education,” despite the “country’s powerful Catholic church.” According to the news service, “The predominately Catholic country has one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations together with significant levels of chronic poverty,” which has stunted economic growth. “Economists say high population growth is a primary factor for that, but the church … says population growth is not a cause of poverty and that people need jobs, not contraception,” Reuters writes. “But despite the arguments of the church and political opponents who decry using state funds to finance contraception, a poll last year showed about 70 percent of people support the bill,” according to the news service, which notes, “Its backers want it passed during the term of this congress, which ends in June” (Lema, 10/2).
During last week’s events in New York, including the U.N. General Assembly, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Social Good Summit, Devex interviewed several newsmakers on the sidelines of the meetings. WHO Assistant Director-General on Family, Women and Children’s Health Flavia Bustreo in an interview with Devex said three challenges to continuing to lower maternal, child, and infant death rates include improving accountability, channeling resources to areas with the least improvement, and keeping a focus on women and children (Lieberman, 10/1). In another interview, Jill Sheffield, founder and president of Women Deliver, “sat down with Devex to discuss the private sector’s role in implementing global health strategies and how reproductive rights is factoring into donors’ perspectives,” according to the news service (Lieberman, 10/1).
“Supplies — the essential medicines and medical equipment frontline health workers need to successfully do their jobs — are a vital part of the solution to saving the lives of mothers and newborns,” Catharine Taylor, a maternal health expert with PATH, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog, adding, “And yet, they are frequently overlooked in the ongoing conversation about how to improve maternal health in the developing world.” She continues, “All the skilled health care workers in the world can’t deliver the care women need if a clinic’s stock is empty and the next round of supplies is weeks away. Reliable availability of maternal health medicines and supplies will ultimately strengthen health care systems and make frontline health workers more effective.”
In the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Gary Darmstadt, Monica Kerrigan, and Wendy Prosser of the foundation discuss a new partnership announced on Wednesday at the U.N. to improve access to contraceptive implants for women in the developing world. The program, part of the FP2020 initiative to increase access to modern contraceptives, “will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of mothers and children and prevent millions of unwanted pregnancies by giving women access to information, supplies and services to delay, space and limit her births,” they write. “This new development puts the power in women’s hands with information, services and contraceptive methods they need and want,” they state, concluding, “Most importantly, though, it allows women in some of the poorest regions of the world the chance to make their own choices about how to plan their families” (9/27).
The following blog posts were published in recognition of World Contraception Day, observed annually on September 26.