In a post on IntraHealth’s “Global Health Blog,” Rebecca Kohler, senior vice president of corporate strategy and development at IntraHealth, writes about an event held last week on the sidelines of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) that “focused on the vital role of women’s health in foreign policy.” She writes, “I was encouraged by the level of commitment to a robust global family planning program on the part of our U.S. Congresswomen and the convention delegates. But I also was inspired by the effective role the U.N. Foundation plays in informing, mobilizing, and activating Americans across the country about critical health and development challenges.” Noting that the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2012 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health “shows that the more informed the public is about global health issues, and how U.S. foreign assistance is saving lives, the more likely they are to support increased funding for health beyond this country’s borders,” Kohler concludes, “Informed and activated Americans are a driving force for change, and the DNC advocacy event was a great reminder that despite the hyper focus on domestic issues during this campaign, people can and do care about global issues” (9/10).
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
“A report [.pdf] on Afghanistan backed by UNICEF shows the country still has leaps and bounds to go in the areas of maternal and child health and education,” GlobalPost’s “Rights” blog reports. “Nearly 46 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 gave birth to a child before their eighteenth birthday in the Western regions of Afghanistan, and one in four women in the country overall delivered a live birth before reaching adulthood,” the report states, according to the blog. “‘Alarmingly, two percent have had a live birth before the age of 15,’ says the report,” the blog writes, adding, “These women were child brides, sold or given to husbands before reaching maturity. The practice is illegal in Afghanistan, but the tradition remains firmly implanted in certain rural tribal regions of the country to the detriment of both mothers and children.”
“Kenya has launched an investigation after researchers claimed HIV-positive women were being routinely sterilized without their consent in government hospitals,” the Guardian reports. The African Gender and Media Initiative issued a report “based on interviews with 40 women, suggest[ing] the practice was widespread and ongoing,” according to the newspaper. “The report also includes examples of coercive tactics used by medical staff to obtain consent — for instance, threatening to withhold antiretroviral medication or baby milk if the woman did not agree to the procedure,” the newspaper writes. “‘These allegations are very serious and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board is going to investigate them before appropriate action is taken,’ Shariff Shahnaz, the director of public health, told the Daily Nation newspaper,” the Guardian reports (Mojtehedzadeh, 9/4).
“After 14 years in limbo,” legislation being considered by the Philippines Congress would “requir[e] the government to provide contraceptives, information on modern family planning methods at public health centers, and comprehensive reproductive health curriculum in schools,” CNN reports. “National surveys show 65-70 percent of Filipinos support the bill, but it faces fierce opposition by the country’s Roman Catholic Church leaders,” according to the news service (Lichauco de Leon, 9/4). “When Philippines President Benigno Aquino III delivered his annual state of the union address in July, he appealed to the country’s lawmakers to break a deadlock” on the reproductive health bill, Inter Press Service writes (Macan-Markar, 9/4).
Noting that a “thin place” is “a place or situation that Celtic Mystics believed to be a coming together of heaven and earth,” Gary Darmstadt, head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Family Health Division, and Wendy Prosser, a research analyst with the Family Health Division, write in the foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, “The London Summit on Family Planning was a ‘thin place’ for the global health community and for millions of women around the world who want to plan their families. It was transformational for so many reasons.” They continue, “The Summit brought family planning back into the mainstream of global health conversations, a place it hasn’t been in decades. And it put the focus of that conversation on women and what they want — voluntary access to contraceptives and the ability to plan their families and their futures” (8/29).
Politico examines the Republican Party’s stance on abortion policy compared with abortion laws in other countries worldwide, stating, “No other nation in the Western world restricts abortion as severely as the Republican Party is calling for in its draft platform.” The article cites statistics regarding other nations’ abortion-related laws from the U.N. report “World Abortion Policies 2011.” According to Politico, “Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, says he does not support a ban on abortions under any circumstances. He has said it should be allowed in cases of rape or incest. But the Republican National Committee slapped him down.” The article continues, “‘This is the platform of the Republican Party,’ committee Chairman Reince Priebus told MSNBC on Tuesday. ‘It’s not the platform of Mitt Romney'” (Brinkley, 8/27).
In this post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Max Kamin-Cross, a self-proclaimed political junky and youth activist, writes that by improving access to contraceptives, “[w]e could lift millions of people of all races and both genders out of poverty throughout the world,” “we could significantly decrease the number of premature deaths, as well as the number of lives claimed by deadly infections like HIV,” and “the quality of life for millions more people would be drastically improved.” He provides statistics regarding access to contraception and continues, “This issue should not be controversial. The future of my generation truly may rely on the fate of contraceptive access” (8/22).
“With one billion people chronically hungry and Earth’s population expected to increase by 50 percent before the end of the century, it’s time to get serious about family planning,” a Los Angeles Times editorial states. “At one point, the prevailing wisdom was that nations needed robust birthrates to protect their economic welfare, and that if only we could produce food more efficiently, feeding the Earth’s burgeoning population wouldn’t be a problem,” it continues, adding, “Now â€¦ we know better. Or we ought to.” The editorial continues, “No one has a good solution. That’s why family planning assistance is one of the most important forms of humanitarian aid that the United States and other developed nations can provide.” It concludes, “Without the necessary resources and an existing economy prepared to absorb large numbers of new workers, nations that promote high birthrates set themselves up for economic distress and political unrest” (8/10).
In a post in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Perri Sutton, an associate program officer on the family planning team at foundation, discusses Senegal’s history of contraceptive stock-outs and Minister of Health Awa Marie Coll-Seck’s plan to “fix the problems that result in stock-outs and ensure that women have access to the full range of contraceptive options.” In pilot tests of an “informed push” model of contraceptive distribution, “[n]ot only have stock-outs been eliminated across the clinics involved, but the average weekly dispensing of a variety of contraceptives has increased dramatically,” Sutton says, adding, “As this system is rolled out across the country, Senegal will have confidence in national estimates of future demand for each product.” She concludes, “Every woman deserves the ability to decide whether, when and how many children she has. Senegal’s Minister of Health is taking bold action to provide the women of her nation with this life-saving opportunity” (8/8).
African Leaders, International Community Must Act On Commitments Made At London Family Planning Summit
In this UNFPA opinion piece, Babatunde Osotimehin, U.N. under-secretary-general and UNFPA executive director, and Sharon Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, reflect on last month’s London Summit on Family Planning, where “leaders from 18 African countries made unprecedented commitments — financially and politically — to strengthen their family planning programs,” and highlight “[a] new study by the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA [that] shows there has been minimal progress in addressing the contraceptive needs of African women during the past four years.” They discuss uneven progress “in meeting the demand for contraceptive services” across the continent and write, “Now it is up to all of Africa’s leaders and the international community to do their part through a sustained commitment to improving the provision of contraceptive services” (8/7).