When Social Constructs Incorrectly Assume Scientific Validity: The Myth of Virginity and Incidence of “Virginity Testing”

When Social Constructs Incorrectly Assume Scientific Validity: The Myth of Virginity and Incidence of “Virginity Testing”

This past Wednesday, the United Nations called for the end of a practice known as “virginity testing,” declaring such tests a violation of human rights. While these tests possess zero scientific merit or clinical foundation, they are still performed in nearly 20 countries, including but not limited to India, Brazil, Afghanistan, South Africa, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Northern Ireland, and Jordan. Virginity testing entails a physical examination of the hymen, usually by an insertion of fingers, to determine whether a woman has had sex. However, such measures are incapable of determining whether a woman has had intercourse or not, and reinforce the anatomically incorrect term “intact hymen.” Furthermore, as delineated in the UN’s statement, this test, "further reinforces socio-cultural norms that perpetuate women’s inequality, including stereotyped views of female morality and sexuality, and serves to exercise control over women and girls." In short, "virginity testing" robs women of the right to protection from discrimination, and of the right to...
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Family Planning Use in East Africa

Family Planning Use in East Africa

Family planning (FP) is critical in the promotion of community health. It is an intervention that is proven to save lives and foster development. Research supports the notion that family planning is directly linked to improvement in maternal and child health in addition to socio-economic progress. Understanding the unmet need for family planning services is key to improving worldwide reproductive health. During the last three decades in East Africa, research shows that Kenya and Rwanda are clear leaders in regards to access to and use of contraception. These two countries have a history of implementing targeted and focused programs to improve access to FP services. FP differs in each country in ways such as the amount of methods offered and the extent to which each method is available. Across the sub-region there is an increase in the use of modern contraceptives. But, a steady proportion of women in Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Tanzania are still using traditional methods. While short-term contraception is frequent in the sub-region, there is...
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Sharp Rise in C-Section Births Around the Globe

Sharp Rise in C-Section Births Around the Globe

A study recently published in The Lancet journal reveals that from 2000 to 2015 there has been approximately a double in the number of cesarean section (C-section) births in the world. C-section births occur when a surgery is performed to open a woman’s lower abdomen and remove the baby. These procedures can either be planned in advance or they can happen suddenly if problems occur during birthing. There are risks to C-section births for the woman, such as infection and postpartum heavy bleeding, and the baby, such as trouble breathing and injury. Additionally, C-sections create a more complicated labor recovery for the mother and pose a threat to future labor complications. The figures from the study state that in 2000 C-sections accounted for 12.1% of all births and in 2015 they accounted for 21.1% of all births. There is evidence published by the World Health Organization stating that there is "no justification for any region to have a caesarean section...
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The Alarming Incidence of Unsafe Abortion Worldwide

The Alarming Incidence of Unsafe Abortion Worldwide

Approximately 56 million abortions are performed globally each year, with half of these procedures falling upon some continuum of danger that they pose. 97% of these unsafe abortions are performed in low-income countries within Africa, Asia, and Latin America, illustrating the enormous reproductive health disparity borne by geographic location. Abortions are classified by the World Health Organization as “safe”, “less safe”, and “least safe.” Many abortions conducted in developing countries are qualified as “least safe,” characterized by the insertion of foreign objects such as sticks and broken glass bottles, or the ingestion of harmful cleaning products. Ultimately, 6.9 million women each year are treated for complications attributed to unsafe abortions, and 23,000 women die from such complications. Yet, safe abortion procedures such as manual evacuation and abortion-inducing drugs are not financially out of reach even for low-resource countries. Thus, the solution to this horrific lapse in reproductive health lies in political discourse. While some countries, such as Ethiopia and Nepal,...
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Philippines to join its first World Contraception Day

Philippines to join its first World Contraception Day

The Philippines announced Wednesday that it will be participating in the upcoming World Contraception Day on September 26th. In its first year joining the global campaign, the country will hold a forum at the University of the Philippines in Diliman to discuss the nation's treatment of reproductive health issues. With one of the world's fastest rates of population growth and a population that has tripled over the last fifty years, the Philippines faces a growing need of family-planning education; widespread awareness of safe and effective contraception methods may slow unsustainable population growth, with positive effects on public health, the economy and the environment. World Contraception Day is an international campaign, with the mission to educate younger generations about contraception so they can make informed decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. The Day is organized by a group of 17 international NGOs, governmental organizations, and medical societies, and is funded by Bayer AG. Held yearly since 2007, World Contraception Day envisions...
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Innovative Ways for Women in Refugee Camps to Find Maternal Health Care

Innovative Ways for Women in Refugee Camps to Find Maternal Health Care

For women living in refugee camps, there is a lack of maternal health facilities on site and finding aid and safe transportation to offsite facilities can be very difficult. Often, refugee camps can be located in rural areas and or conflict zones causing a lack of specialized doctors close to the camp and security issues with traveling outside the camp such as attacks on ambulances. It is vital for a pregnant woman to be able to receive obstetric care in any emergency situation. In order to help refugee women find timely and quality care, mobile clinics and “mama taxis” have been installed in many camps to aid prenatal and postpartum healthcare. The UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) has led the development of mobile clinics which are “clinics on wheels” equipped with necessary medicines, tools, machines, doctors, nurses, etc. and can meet a woman in need so she does not have to travel around or leave a camp. With similar intentions,...
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Community Health Campaign: Thoughts Station by Station

Community Health Campaign: Thoughts Station by Station

Not much changes yet everything seems different whenever I return to my home country of Kenya. I was reminded of my first time in Kisumu last year with Dr. Megan Huchko & Katelyn Bryant-Comstock and how anxious I was, even though I was in Kenya, I was completely unfamiliar with this region, the local language, and the culture. Last year, I was a rising junior filled with high hopes, yet naïve of the intricacies of proposing a project and carrying it out. This year, I have returned with much more practical expectations as well as a greater capacity to carry out my project: using GIS spatial mapping to enumerate the risk of loss-to-follow up for treatment of HPV. My project is taking place in Migori, Kenya as a part of the ongoing Cervical Cancer Screening & Prevention Study. The use of geographic information systems will help us create correlations between women’s sociodemographic variables as risk-factors and treatment loss-to-follow up rates....
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When words in Washington translate to tragedy across the globe

When words in Washington translate to tragedy across the globe

When people ask how my summer internship is going, I never know what exactly to say. I usually end up blurting out a rapid mix of emotions: “It’s great!” “I love it!” “But it’s also really sad!” “Super depressing day to day, but I care a lot about the work.” “An awesome place to work but a sad field to be working in right now.” I’m interning at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC on the Universal Access Project, which convenes donors and advocates working to improve women’s and girls’ access to family planning around the world. Family planning is a fundamental human right and undeniably one of the best investments countries can make towards sustainable development—it can enable girls to stay in school, prevent maternal deaths, improve women’s financial independence and economic productivity, and has even been identified as a top solution to combat climate change. The Duke Center for Global Reproductive Health and other NGOs have reported frequently about...
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So… what are you going to do about it?

So… what are you going to do about it?

I’m currently in Amansie West, Ghana as part of a team conducting research on the barriers and facilitators to family planning use and the role community health workers play in family planning uptake. During this time, I was invited to attend Ghana Health Service’s first National Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Conference by Millennium Promise,  a co-sponsor of the conference and our collaborator in country. The collaboration with Millennium Promise first began back in September when Chief Nat Ebo Nsarko, the Country Director visited Duke University. From the beginning this team has been our guide for conducting research in Ghana through assisting us in each task and facilitating our learning experience. It is through their contributions and dedication which have allowed this research to not only be possible but successful. The theme of the conference was “Strengthening Partnerships for Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Nutrition.” Gladys Ghartey (Head of UN System Unit at...
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Reproductive Health Victories

Reproductive Health Victories

This week has seen an onslaught of negative health news from the United States and around the world. Crisis pregnancy centers in the United States are now allowed to withhold legally available medical options, women in Guam no longer have access to abortion services, and we continue to see daily impacts from the reinstatement of the global gag rule and hear reports of lack of access to reproductive health services from women in refugee camps. It’s easy to get depressed from the seemingly impenetrable amount of work that needs to be done to protect the health and human rights of people around the world. But that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to dig deep, understand the depth of the problems, and develop new partnerships and solutions. I’d like to highlight some exciting news from this past week of just that: people digging deep and developing new solutions to positively impact the health and rights of people across the world. Preventing...
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