Challenges to Maternal Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

Challenges to Maternal Mental Health During the COVID-19 Crisis

The current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has devastated communities across the United States since early this spring and continues to do so on a global scale. The impact on maternal health and welfare, and by extension child health has not been lost on mothers across the world. Hospitals have closed their doors to visitors and accompanying loved ones for those seeking healthcare – victims of COVID-19 fight alone and too often succumb to the illness without their primary emotional support systems, but rather in isolated rooms with little human contact. In the case of pregnant and expectant mothers, this means potentially giving birth alone. These women are now also kept in isolation rooms, away from their families and loved ones, and surrounded by healthcare workers masked in personal protective equipment – a far cry from the societal norms previously established and long withstanding (Hermann, Fitelson, & Bergink, 2020). This newfound isolation and the impact of the pandemic extends to reaching antenatal care and...
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What President-Elect Biden’s win means for COVID relief in Kenya and other low- and middle-income countries

What President-Elect Biden’s win means for COVID relief in Kenya and other low- and middle-income countries

Recent attention has been focused on what the Biden-Harris administration can accomplish with executive orders starting from day one. From student debt relief to fully implementing the Defense Production Act, these actions can have a direct impact on domestic economic relief and health care. History tells us that, like every recent Democratic presidential administration, within the first few days of office Biden will also repeal the Global Gag Rule. This executive order will permit non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving U.S. foreign aid to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion advocacy and abortion services. But the impact this action could have goes well beyond abortion and into other areas of public health as well. From July-October 2020, my two undergraduate research assistants (Ema Kuczura and Sarah Hubner) and I interviewed 35 sexual and reproductive health NGOs in Kenya who universally reported that the Global Gag Rule (implemented by the Trump administration in January 2017 and expanded by Secretary of State...
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Director’s Blog December 2020

Director’s Blog December 2020

The past eight months have been a time of unexpected and often stressful changes as we navigate life with Covid-19 amidst a period of social and political unrest in this country. As the year comes to a close, we’ve chosen to focus this newsletter on the changes we’ve experienced over the past semester—what we’ll keep, what we’ve learned and how this has been a powerful catalyst for our work.  At this stage in the pandemic, the changes that felt temporary have become engrained into our daily lives—it’s natural to grab a mask before leaving the house, standing six feet away is the norm and it’s assumed that when we set up a meeting, it will be by Zoom.  While most of us can’t wait to resume more normalcy in our social and personal lives, some of these necessary changes have turned out to have unexpected benefits. Personally, I get to see my kids a lot more than I did before...
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Washington Sex-Ed Curriculum

Washington Sex-Ed Curriculum

This November 3rd, voters in Washington will be voting on a law to ensure a comprehensive sexual education curriculum in schools. The new law, called Referendum 90, would require schools districts to adopt a sexual education curriculum consistent with state standards. This new law encourages schools to follow a curriculum approved by the state, although they are allowed to develop their own provided that they are inclusive, age-appropriate, and teach medically accurate information about contraceptives and disease prevention. Parents are allowed to review material and request to excuse their children. The curriculum mandates at least 6 lessons throughout grades K-12, with a minimum of one lesson between kindergarten and third grade, one in grade four or five, two in middle school, and two in high school. In the earlier lessons, content would focus on social-emotional learning such as how to cope with feelings or how to set goals. Proponents of the bills cite rising sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancies, and...
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Supreme Court’s Recent Ruling on Abortion Drug

Supreme Court’s Recent Ruling on Abortion Drug

The latest victory for abortion rights: the supreme court declined to reinstate restriction for patients seeking to obtain a drug used for early pregnancy abortions. With COVID-19 continuing to ravage through the country, the Supreme Court allowed a blocking of FDA rules requiring an in-person visit with a medical professional to pick up mifepristone, the drug in question which is the first of two drugs taken to terminate pregnancies less than 10 weeks. The ACLU argues on behalf of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that the FDA rules served no purpose and forced women to face unnecessary risks with added trips to the doctor during the pandemic. Mifepristone is the only medication that the FDA forced patients to pick up in clinic, despite the fact that women can take the pill without supervision. This comes as a blow to the Trump administration, as he asked the supreme court to reinstate this rule earlier in the year despite the...
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State Policies and Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights remain a contested and highly debated topic, largely left up to the discretion of states to decide on more or less restrictive policies. However, recent research has provided evidence that states with less restrictive policies see better birth outcomes. In a new study released just a week ago on October 13th, Sudhinaraset and her team compared several reproductive policies across states including, mandatory parent consent for minors seeking abortion, mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on public funding for abortion, percentage of women living in counties with abortion providers, expanded eligibility for Medicaid family planning services, and mandatory sexual education in schools. The results show that women in most restrictive states showed a 7% higher low birth weight risk when compared to women in the least restrictive states. They also showed the less restrictive policies are particularly protective against adverse birth outcomes for Black women. As more restrictive policies are being put in place and status of certain reproductive rights...
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Restrictions on US Global Health Assistance Reduce Key Health Services in Supported Countries

The 2017 Mexico City Policy, or Global Gag Rule, prohibits non-US-based NGOs from receiving US global health assistance if they either perform or refer for abortion services. Sherwood et al. (2020) studied the effects of the expanded policy on implementing partners of US-funded HIV programming by the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) via a survey in all recipient countries. Survey results showed that 28% of organizations reported stopping or reducing at least one service in response to the policy. The delivery of information about sexual and reproductive health, pregnancy counseling, contraceptive provision, and HIV testing were services reduced. These disproportionately harmed pregnant women, youth and vulnerable populations such as sex workers and men who have sex with men. Thus, the intended beneficiaries of PEPFAR funding may be the most negatively impacted, especially in areas with high HIV prevalence. This study calls attention to policy makers to respond to disruptions in service delivery from the expanded Mexico City Policy...
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An Interview with Dr. Joy Noel Baumgartner

What originally sparked your passion in global sexual and reproductive health? I was originally interested in child welfare issues and realized how closely related that is with women’s ability to realize their reproductive intentions.   Have you had any mentorship opportunities that brought you to where you are today? I didn’t get into SRH work until after my PhD, while working at FHI 360. I can’t say there was one particular mentor—more like a committed environment of like-minded individuals dedicated to social and reproductive justice issues.   Do you have any guiding principles that keep you on track? I’m an applied researcher. At the end of day, I have to see how any project I’m working on will impact practice or policy—not “someday” but within a tangible time period.  That usually means very close collaborations with my research partners endure past the end of the funding.   Do you have any advice for students intending to follow the same professional pathway? If you’re interested in global SRH, know the countries/regions...
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Summarizing the panel: “Facing Hard Numbers and Hard Conversations: The Impact of Race and Socioeconomic Status in Women’s Health and Gynecology”

Summarizing the panel: “Facing Hard Numbers and Hard Conversations: The Impact of Race and Socioeconomic Status in Women’s Health and Gynecology”

Last week, we heard from three amazing speakers Nikki Mahendru, Dr. Chemtai Mungo, and Dr. Megan Huchko about the impact of race and socioeconomic status in women’s health and gynecology in an event held by Duke University’s Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies.  As an undergraduate student, Nikki spoke about the perspective she gained on this topic from shadowing an OB/GYN as well as her own mother’s experiences.  She provided great insight to the importance of an OB/GYN’s office as the birthplace of a woman hating or loving her body.  Dr. Huchko detailed her experiences in Niger working on a surgical team to repair fistulas.   Despite their great work, one woman suffered an unnecessary surgery due to the biased views of the doctors; today, this experience motivates Dr. Huchko to recognize and fight against implicit biases that may impede optimal care for a patient.  On the other hand, Dr. Huchko noted the recent positive shifts away from racism with more of an emphasis on centering the patient in care.  Next, Dr. Mungo...
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Adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19

Adolescent girls and young women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19

This last summer I worked as a Policy Intern at Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria advocates for U.S. support and investment in the Global Fund and other health programs by engaging with U.S. policymakers, connecting with key stakeholders, and educating the broader community about improving global health. The COVID-19 pandemic presents serious threats to progress made in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria—specifically, analyses from Imperial College, UNAIDS, the Stop TB Partnership, WHO, and others suggest that the annual death tolls of these three diseases could nearly double due to consequences of COVID-19. As a result, Friends has shifted gears to directly recognize COVID-19 as a leading global health threat. Friends is actively involved in actions to mitigate the spread and effects of COVID-19 and is currently focused on boosting U.S. investment in a global response to the virus.  During my internship, I had the...
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