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 Maternal Mortality
The cold chain is a critical problem in low-resource settings for how the quality of life saving medicines and vaccines can be protected. We usually hear about the cold chain in relation to childhood immunization campaigns, but another crucial medicine the cold chain affects is Oxytocin. Oxytocin can be used immediately postpartum to prevent women from hemorrhaging. When used correctly, oxytocin is incredibly effective and safe. However, it needs to be stored at less than 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a major issue for clinics without access to refrigeration.
This week, results were released from a WHO trial testing a new medicine, heat-stable carbetocin, which showed it is as effective and safe as oxytocin in preventing postpartum hemorrhage. When there are 830 women dying daily from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, this is an extremely important discovery that could save millions of lives around the world.
We have written before about multi-purpose prevention technologies (MPTs) and some of the challenges they face getting to market. In extremely exciting news, a Phase 1 study launched this week to test the Population Council’s MPT gel, which is intended to prevent three sexually transmitted infections (STIs): HIV, HSV, and HPV.
Many of these present as co-infections, and a product that prevents all three would be a health game-changer. Health complications from each of these STIs create an increased burden on health systems and, without proper management, can impact an individual’s participation in the workforce and shorten life expectancy. As each of these infections can be transmitted through vaginal or anal sex, the gel is designed to be used either vaginally or rectally. While the gel still has a long way to go until it’s widely available, the start of this trial is an incredible step forward to getting more MPTs to market.
Protecting the Rights of LGBTQI Refugees
People who identify as LGBTQI often face discrimination when accessing healthcare services in countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized. If they are unable to share their full sexual histories due to fear of prosecution, they are potentially missing out on critical comprehensive healthcare and education.
In refugee camps, this stigma and discrimination is only amplified. LGBTQI refugees can find themselves in unfamiliar territory where they don’t know how they could be persecuted. They can face discrimination among a new community of people and from an unfamiliar health workforce in the camp. They also often don’t have access to resources to help with the identification of LGBTQI friendly services in camps and in locations where they are resettled.
A group in Kenya is working to change that.
The Refugee Coalition of East Africa was founded by a group of LGBTQI refugees to bring like-minded organizations together to advocate for international representation, facilitate community integration efforts, provide mentorship and job training, support access to healthcare, and promote durable refugee solutions. Last week, a member of the coalition, Refugee Flag Kakuma, held an inaugural pride event at one of the largest refugee camps in the world. With over 600 people in attendance, organizers were buoyed by the support shown and success of the event, however homophobic threats during and after the parade show the continued reality LGBTQI refugees live every day. The Coalition won’t let this stop them as they continue to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI refugees.
True change happens slowly over time. As present in each of these highlights, it took years to get to this point, but through perseverance and many late nights, we will now all wait excitedly to see where doctors, researchers and activists go next in ensuring our health and rights are protected.
-Katelyn Bryant-Comstock, Program Manager