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...
Read More
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...
Read More
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...
Read More
Bringing Multi-Purpose Prevention Technology Development into the Global Spotlight

Bringing Multi-Purpose Prevention Technology Development into the Global Spotlight

Multi-purpose prevention technologies (MPTs) are the future for female-driven sexually transmitted infection (STI) and unplanned pregnancy prevention. Although dozens of products are in the MPT development pipeline, including several at the final stages of clinical trials, progress in development has been slow, and investment paltry. In my last post, I discussed the technical and scientific barriers that are slowing down MPT research. Today I will highlight the comparable societal barriers, namely: lack of government willpower, widespread poor understanding of the depth and breadth of these health issues, and funding troubles. First, though HIV and unplanned pregnancies receive substantial attention in the fields of global health and development, other STIs tend to be much more overlooked. Fewer global health organizations conduct regular surveillance of non-HIV STIs, preventing more funding from going to their prevention. For instance, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2015 Report on global sexually transmitted infection surveillance reported an estimated 357.4 million new infections worldwide (roughly 1 million per...
Read More
What We’ve Been Up To and What’s Next

What We’ve Been Up To and What’s Next

It’s been a busy spring semester here at the Center for Global Reproductive Health. We opened the semester with the inaugural Global Reproductive Health Leadership Symposium which brought together ten east African researchers and over 25 Duke fellows, researchers and students for a three-day hands-on meeting at Duke. Attendees shared areas of research, participated in grant writing workshops, and received in-depth training on leadership and mentorship. One of the key events from the Symposium was a lunch session “How Gender, Race, and Ethnicity Can Impact Leadership Opportunities”. With a standing room only crowd, Lola Fayanju from general surgery, Nimmi Ramanujam from Pratt, and Provost Sally Kornbluth engaged in a lively discussion moderated by Kathy Sikkema on their career paths, decision points, and how they have defined themselves as leaders. They also shared key insights on what it felt like to be trailblazers in their respective fields. It was an incredible panel that brought together multiple different sectors and provided real-life context...
Read More
Why don’t we have more MPTs already?

Why don’t we have more MPTs already?

The term “multi-purpose prevention technologies” (MPTs) refers to any single technology that simultaneously protects users against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy. As I discussed earlier this month, MPTs have recently garnered substantial attention and devotion from researchers, as well as a major increase in financial backing from donors. MPTs hold a tremendous potential to transform the lives of women everywhere, especially those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where access to family planning and condoms for STI prevention can be a major challenge. Yet, despite innovative research and vast potential, the only MPTs currently on the market are still internal and external condoms. So, why haven’t more MPTs become available? At first glance, MPTs seem like a pretty simple concept—if a woman is already using a ring that emits drugs to prevent pregnancy, why not add in some prophylactic drugs that prevent HIV transmission as well? Yet, MPT research and development face a multitude of complex hurdles that need...
Read More
The Future (of STI Prevention) is Female

The Future (of STI Prevention) is Female

Currently, condoms are the only product on the market that provide individuals with dual protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. The United Nations (UN) Department of Economic and Social Affairs recently reported a worldwide increase in condom use from 1994 to 2015. During this time, the percentage share of male condoms of all contraceptives used globally among married or in-union women aged 15 to 49 increased from 8% to 12%. In addition to condom prevalence, contraceptive use overall has increased rapidly since the creation of various modern methods (such as the pill and IUD) in the 1960s and 1970s. More women are using contraceptives now than ever before. Nonetheless, the UN also reported, “in at least one of out every four countries or areas with data, a single method accounts for 50 per cent or more of all contraceptive use among married or in-union women.” The most commonly used methods included the pill, injectables or IUDs—none of...
Read More
Harnessing Culture for Change

Harnessing Culture for Change

Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is comprised of all procedures which alter or injure female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights, and eliminating this practice is one of the Sustainable Development Goals and a key focus area for many governments around the world. It is estimated that at least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM and almost 40% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are currently affected. In order to make lasting change on this issue, more is needed than national legislation. FGM is deeply rooted in culture and religion, and local traditions need to be taken into account and understood to advocate for change. Read the latest editorial from The Lancet addressing this issue, and offering solutions for how we can harness culture for change....
Read More
Ireland to Vote on Abortion Law Reform

Ireland to Vote on Abortion Law Reform

At the end of May, the Irish government will hold a referendum to decide if their long-standing constitutional ban on abortion should be repealed. Currently, unborn fetuses have a right to life equal to living humans, which has been interpreted as a ban on abortion in almost every single circumstance. If the referendum passes, the Irish Parliament will have the power to enact laws regulating abortion. Read the New York Times article for more information on the potential new regulations and Christine Ryan's blog to learn more about abortion law reform. Photo courtesy of: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters  ...
Read More
Cervical Health Awareness Month

Cervical Health Awareness Month

People across the U.S. are kicking off 2018 right with health-conscious resolutions. According to Statista, 45% of Americans hope to “lose weight or get in shape” in 2018. But January offers another opportunity to celebrate and jump-start health awareness: it’s Cervical Health Awareness Month. In the U.S. there are between 11,000 and 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer annually, and cervical cancer is the fourth most prevalent form of cancer among women globally. While patients diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer have 5-year survival rates of up to 91%, the disease becomes far more deadly as cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body. Fortunately, proactive methods like HPV vaccinations and screenings can keep cervical cancer at bay, and mitigate almost all deaths related to cervical cancer. However, access to such healthcare often depends on a woman’s geographic location and socioeconomic status. According to the WHO, “approximately 90% [of] the 270,000 deaths from cervical cancer in 2015 occurred in low- and middle-income countries.” Duke...
Read More