Archive for the ‘Reproductive health’ Category

By: Samantha Metlitz

Period, menstruation, time of the month, crimson tide, whatever you call it, most of us know something about periods and fifty percent of the world’s population have firsthand experience with it. Women get it once a month for the majority of their lives, yet all around the world periods are a taboo subject. People become uncomfortable talking about periods and women feel the need to hide when they get theirs like it’s something embarrassing and shameful to have. While in high school, I would try to hide tampons and pads in pockets or sleeves or bring my whole backpack to the bathroom. I felt the need to hide the fact that I was on my period as if it was shameful in some way. In other countries, the stigma surrounding menstruation and menstrual hygiene causes bigger issues. In some places, women are isolated during their periods or are forced to leave schools because of lack of proper sanitation and access to sanitary products. According to a World Bank blog post, girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss 20% of a school year because of menstruation (Lusk-Stover, 2016). Lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene products, water, and sanitation is a major issue for women. A study on this issue found that menstrual hygiene in refugee camps was not being properly addressed because the emergency response workers were uncomfortably about the subject, causing them not to properly address the issue (Schmitt et al., 2017). Menstrual hygiene and menstruation need to become normalized so that they’re no longer taboo.


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By Antonella Marcon

On Valentine’s Day 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stuck an unwrapped piece of candy in his mouth during his speech. He was addressing overseas foreign workers from Kuwait who were able to return home to the Philippines, a luxury only afforded to them after Duterte called for a halt on OFWs to Kuwait after a string of abuse cases and murders. However, sticking unwrapped candy in his mouth was not a blunder. He was trying to illustrate what it was like to use a condom.

At 1:41 in this video, Duterte says that women should opt for other methods of birth control so as not to limit their sexual abilities. While these actions are unsurprising from the candid Philippine president, they are unsettling when understanding the context of his mocking of condom use.


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By: Emily Kirwin

The first time I heard about the rising maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the United States, was after Serena Williams’ birth, and this story about a family struggling to cope after a new mother died after childbirth:

While it is no surprise to learn that black women are 3 to 4 times as likely as white women to die during childbirth, it was shocking to me to learning that 700 U.S. women do not survive to the next day with their newborn (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In 2000, the United Nations signed a document declaring to improve maternal health worldwide by the year 2015 (World Health Organization, 2018). Since then, many countries – both lower income and higher income – have decreased their MMR drastically. However, the United States has observed an increase of maternal deaths from 23 in 2005 to about 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 births (Tavernise, 2016). A majority these deaths were preventable (Martin & Montagne, 2017).


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By: Gopika Das

India is home to 1.3 billion people, accounting for 17.5% of the world’s population . It is also home to 27% of deaths caused by cervical cancer worldwide (Cousins 2018). Despite cervical cancer having the best chances of secondary prevention, it remains a leading cause of female mortality globally. The burden of the disease is especially heightened in developing countries like India and Pakistan. In India, lack of the HPV vaccine in governmental immunisation programs and inadequate access to screening for the disease, are major contributors to the extremely high incidence rate.

It is agreed that the HPV vaccine along with early screening for cervical cancer, can prevent upto 70 percent of new cases (Swaminathan 2016). The HPV vaccine has been approved for use since 2006, and as of 2017, 71 countries have included it in their vaccine programs. India however has been extremely reluctant. While the government has severely dragged its feet on providing adequate resources, societally there is a negative association with the vaccine. In 2009 funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, the NGO PATH, launched a $3.6 million HPV program. However within a year, there was an uproar over the deaths of seven girls following the vaccine, effectively halting the program. Despite officials declaring that the deaths were not caused by the vaccine, people got scared and the aversion to the vaccine stuck.


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By Sally Bohrer

In Africa, only three countries (Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia) have legalized abortion. In the other fifty-one countries, abortion rights vary. None have completely outlawed abortion, as all African countries allow abortions to save the mother’s life, but most do not allow abortions in any other circumstances, even in the case of rape or incest. (For a full list of abortion rights by country, visit: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/ng-interactive/2014/oct/01/-sp-abortion-rights-around-world-interactive). (more…)

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By Dionna Joynes

If you couldn’t tell from the title of this blog post, then I will warn you all now. The topic of this post is HIGHLY disturbing in the way that it violates basic human rights, encourages the degradation of young future women in the long term, uses the face of culture and purity as a wayward choice to control the girls in specific communities, and it may even cause for a closer look at the health care providers you and your family use, So, for those of you who don’t know, this post is about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as FGC, Female Genital Circumcision. A short definition of what this process implies is, intentional injury to female genital organs for non medical purposes. This process has occurred for at least a couple centuries, at the very least. As I researched the topic of FGM, there were many things that came up that interested, as well as disgusted me. As a Health Science/Public Health student, I always try to remain open minded and non judgmental for new ideas that are completely different from the ones I grew up on. However, the practice of FGM, in my opinion, should signal for a global emergency or call of action. (more…)

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By Arianna Nisonoff

Condoms are the key to an exorbitant number of global health problems. We need to be making more use out of this simple and cost effective innovation. When used correctly, they can be used effectively to stop the transmission of numerous diseases, control population growth (and in turn poverty), and empower women. They are a simple solution that could change the world once people gain better access on top of accepting them culturally.

Normally, when people think of using a condom to prevent disease they think of HIV and AIDS; but as recent discoveries have shown new diseases, such as the Zika virus, can also be sexually transmitted.7 Zika virus is a disease of current epidemic proportions. Largely seen in South America, this disease is transmitted by mosquitos and causes fever, joint pain, red eye and other symptoms.2 Many governments and religious figures are now recommending the use of condoms to prevent the spread of Zika virus. Not only can a male pass on Zika virus to a women when having unprotected sex, but there is also a chance for mother to child transmission to occur, which can lead to birth defects. Birth defects such as microcephaly, which results in abnormal brain growth and potentially impact mental development in children, and impaired vision, due to damage to the retina or optic nerve and could lead to potential blindness, can occur.5, 6 Protected sex could prevent so many of these birth defects and eliminate the sexual transmission of this disease.

Disease prevention is a huge benefit of condoms, but they can also do so much more. Condoms are a major player in family planning. The poorest countries have the highest population growth rate.4 When the average family size in a community is 7 children, there is no future. Making contraception accessible everywhere and decreasing population growth is a major factor in ending poverty.8 Limited family planning is concurrent with low female education rates.4 Not only does implementing greater condom use improve family planning, but this access to contraception is just one step in building female autonomy. Having a large number of children poses a health risk to women, and many of these women in developing countries having these large number of children report having more babies than they want and starting earlier than they want.4 Condoms are a step in empowering women and letting them have the number of children they want, while also giving them more opportunities and freedoms.1 In a lot of low income countries women have very few rights. In an article by Nina Lakhani, women in El Salvador are being imprisoned for 30-50 years on the count of murder for Zika related miscarriages.3 This was mind-boggling and absolutely heart breaking to me. This is a huge injustice to these women and this sort of treatment needs to be stopped. Fighting the legal system in this country needs to be done but would be an extremely difficult task. The least that should be done is promoting condom use so that the Zika virus is not transmitted to these women and they are not wrongfully imprisoned because of a disease related miscarriage.

Condoms need to be better taken advantage of, and condom education and distribution should be a larger global health intervention. A TED Talk by Mechai Viravaidya (https://www.ted.com/talks/mechai_viravaidya_how_mr_condom_made_thailand_a_better_place?language=en#t-103083), shares a success story of how condoms saved Thailand. With the original intention of population control, condoms were then used to prevent the HIV and AIDS epidemic in that country. The average number of children per family decreased from 7 to 1.5 in 25 years; and incidence of HIV declined by 90%. Viravaidya and his team were able to get these astonishing results by making the condom as accessible as possible, having them at coffee shops and giving them out in various community settings. They received blessings from important religious figures that were widely accepted, which made Thai people more accepting of the condom. Condom education became a major part of education in middle school and in high school, to a point where children where the teachers. These are just a few steps that many current low-income countries should be taking. Condoms have the potential to improve standard of living, and should therefore be better utilized as a tool to combat disease, poverty and to protect women’s rights.


Work Cited


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Family planning/contraception. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs351/en/


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Zika virus. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/zika/symptoms/index.html


  1. Lakhani, N. (2016, February 12). ‘Zika-linked’ miscarriages pose jail risk for women in El Salvador, activists say. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/feb/12/zika-linked-miscarriages-pose-jail-risk-women-el-salvador-activists-say


  1. Nadakavukaren, A. (2011). Our global environment a health perspective. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.


  1. Saint Luis, C. (2016, February 9). Study in Brazil links Zika virus to eye damage in babies. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/10/health/study-in-brazil-links-zika-virus-to-eye-damage-in-babies.html?ref=topics


  1. Saint Luis, C. (2016, January 31). Microcephaly, spotlighted by Zika virus, has long afflicted and mystified. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/01/health/microcephaly-spotlighted-by-zika-virus-has-long-afflicted-and-mystified.html


  1. Tavemise, S. (2016, February 18). W.H.O. recommends contraception in countries with Zika virus. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/19/health/zika-virus-birth-control-contraception-who.html?_r=1


  1. Viravaidya, M. (2010, September). Mechai Viravaidya: How Mr. condom made Thailand a better place for life and love . Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/mechai_viravaidya_how_mr_condom_made_thailand_a_better_place?language=en#t-103083


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By Alicia Van Enoo

Abortion is one of the biggest issues of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Race. The debate centers on the complicated interplay between moral beliefs and legal rights, but rarely focuses on the medical consequences of preventing access to abortions. Recent statistics show that “of the estimated 44 million abortions performed every year worldwide, around half are considered unsafe.”1 This is a specifically important issues in countries where proper medical care and access to birth control is limited or non-existent. In countries where abortions are illegal, and even in countries where they are legal, but inaccessible due to “providers claiming conscientious objection”5, many women resort to extreme and often dangerous methods of terminating pregnancy.

According to the World Health Organization, 1 woman dies every 8 minutes due to complications from unsafe abortions, making it “one of the leading causes of maternal mortality (13%).”3 With limited access to contraception and sexual education and the alarmingly high incidence of rape in certain developing countries, unwanted pregnancies are not uncommon. Young girls and mothers who are already struggling are faced with difficult decisions in a healthcare system that does not support them. WHO defines unsafe abortions as “a procedure for terminating a pregnancy that is performed by an individual lacking the necessary skills, or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.”2 Practically speaking, this can range from ingesting toxic chemicals, placing foreign objects into the uterus, or even blunt force trauma to the abdomen.3 These risky methods often lead to hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, or genital trauma – which without immediate medical attention, can result in death.3 Doctors without Borders run an obstetrical emergency center in Haiti to treat women suffering from pregnancy complications.1 They receive many women who are hemorrhaging and suffering from sepsis due to incomplete abortions. Unfortunately, if the abortion is incomplete, but uncomplicated, they are forced to refer them to another clinic. With the stigma associated with abortion, many women are often either treated disrespectfully, or even withheld treatment and left to die.1

Less restrictive abortion laws do not result in increased abortions, on the contrary, countries with the strictest abortion regulations have the highest rates of abortion.2 Consequently, the majority of unsafe abortions happen in developing nations, where abortions are largely unavailable due to accessibility or legality issues.3 South Africa is a promising case study looking at the effect of policy changes on the rates of unsafe abortions. In 2008, more than 97% of abortions in Africa were considered “unsafe”. However, the rate for South Africa, where abortion was legalized in 1997, was only 58%.2 It is a common misconception in the field of public health that providing access equates encouraging behavior. Evidence shows that increasing accessibility to abortion does not increase rates, but it does significantly reduce the proportion of abortions that are conducted in an unsafe and unregulated manner.2

Although programmatic changes concerning access to abortions are undoubtedly necessary in countries facing high rates of unsafe abortions, the first line of defense should be prevention.4 Access to contraception is a privilege taken for granted by many in developed nations, yet it is only sparingly available to many women around the world. Additionally, sexual education is heavily lacking, even in our own backyard. Preventing unwanted pregnancy could help drastically reduce rates of unsafe abortions, without needing to directly tackle the sensitive problem of pregnancy termination.

I concede that at a time of intense debate concerning individual rights and protection, it is difficult to step away from the legal and moral dimensions of abortion. However, the health implications of unsafe abortions make it first and foremost a medical issue in developing nations. Doctors Without Borders urges us to to recognize that aside from being an issue in the 2016 presidential election “safe abortion care is a medical necessity.”1 As Elizabeth McCguire, from Former president of Ipas, said “there is no perfect contraceptive method, so there will always be abortions, and it’s important that abortions be safe so that women don’t die.”4


The following video discusses Kenya’s struggles with unsafe abortions and highlights the extensiveness and severity of the issue



  1. Doctors Without Borders / MSF-USA. “The Dangers of Unsafe Abortion.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Jan 2015. Web. Accessed 22 Feb 2016.
  2. Guttmacher Institute. “Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide.” Nov 2015. Web. Accessed 22 Feb 2016
  3. Haddad L, Nour N. “Unsafe Abortion: Unnecessary Maternal Mortality.” Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009;2(2): 122-26.
  4. VOA News. “World Health Organization Targets Unsafe Abortion.” Online video clip. YouTube. Youtube, 24 Jun 2010. Web. Accessed 22 Feb 2016.
  5. Wood S. “A Global class on Abortion. “ The New York Times. 28 Jan 2016. Web. Accessed 22 Feb 2016.

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By Madeleine Kelly

The hot topic at every girl’s sleepover in high school; how many kids their going to have, at what age their going to have them, and what their names are going to be. Unfortunately family planning turns out much better in your imagination than it does in real life.  The fight for access to sexual education and contraceptives makes it hard for women to control their bodies and lives. Living in a developed country we are lucky to have the minimal access that we have. Unfortunately those living in still developing countries are not as lucky.

In 2012, the United Nations declared access to contraception a “universal human right.” This was quite a step in allowing women to take control of their bodies. This declaration is by no means a law, it stands with no legal emphasis, but it opens doors to future legal movements towards much needed help. As of 2015 it was found that only 40% of married or in union women of childbearing age in developing countries were using some form of contraceptive (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1). Keep in mind this only pertains to the percent of society married or in union. Family Planning is so vital to this century, with our high abortion and unsafe abortion rates, infant mortality rates, skyrocketing fertility rates coinciding with the poverty levels in underdeveloped (and developed) countries, and economic turmoil for so many countries.

With abortion as controversial as ever, it should not even be considered as a type of contraceptive or family planning. However because of lack of accessibility here we are in 2016 still abusing abortions. An amazing example of how family planning, access and education on contraceptives can impact abortion rates is Europe, which holds both the highest and the lowest incidence rates of abortion. The lowest, 12 per 1,000 women, is in Western Europe, and the highest is in Eastern Europe, with a rate of 43 per 1,000. The difference between the two is that Eastern Europe has low contraceptive use and dependence on outdated methods like the withdrawal and rhythm method (Guttmacher Institute, 1). Countries outside of the US and Europe haven’t been as lucky with family planning.

In developing countries, abortion rates are high, but unsafe abortion rates are even higher. What the World Health Organization is calling, a “preventable pandemic,” unsafe abortions are the result of fear of childbirth but also fear of shame. Defined by the WHO as  “abortions done by individuals without the requisite skills, or in environments below minimum medical standards, or both,” they claim 19-20 million abortions annually (World Health Organization, 1). This is nearly half of the 43 million global abortions that took place in 2008, according to the Guttmacher Institute (1).  They also show that an estimated 68,000 women die annually world wide due to complications from unsafe abortions (1). These are complications that can easily be fixed, with more access to contraceptives and access to legal and available abortions when absolutely necessary.

Another issue with limited access to contraceptives is infant mortality. For those who decide to come to term with pregnancies, despite not being ready emotionally, physically, or financially for a child, put themselves and their newborn in a risky position. As of 2015, the top three countries with the highest infant mortality rates, Afghanistan, Mali, and Somalia, are all developing countries with roughly 10% of their infants dying. There are 36 countries losing more than 5% of their infants, all developing countries (Central Intelligence Agency, 1). These high death rates are correlated with high birth rates, correlated with a lack of control over birth.

The UNFPA goes as far as saying that family planning will boost the economy, stating that for every dollar invested in contraception leads to a reduction in the cost of pregnancy-related care by $1.47 (UNFPA, 1) They also comment on the annual GDP of growing countries, giving the example, “If adolescent girls in Brazil and India were able to wait until their early twenties to have children, the increased economic productivity would equal more than $3.5 billion and $7.7 billion, respectively” (UNFPA, 1).  As you can see, family planning is as important, if not more important in still developing countries than in already developed countries. It is a public health issue that is in desperate need for more attention, with the ability to decrease need for abortion, decrease infant mortality and population problems, and potentially increase economic productivity, family planning needs to be of higher concern to nations with these problem areas.


Beadle, Amanda Peterson. “United Nations Declares Access To Contraception A ‘Universal Human Right’.” Center for American Progress Action Fund, 14 Nov. 2012. Web. <http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/11/14/1189161/un-contraception-human-right/&gt;.


“Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide.” Facts on Induced Abortion Worldwide. Guttmacher Institute, Nov. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html


“Family Planning/Contraception.” World Health Organization, May 2015. Web. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs351/en/&gt;.


“Family Planning | UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund.” Family Planning | UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund. United Nations Population Fund, 20 Apr. 2015. Web. <http://www.unfpa.org/family-planning#&gt;.


“Increased Contraceptive Use Worldwide.” Reproductive Health Matters. Department of Economic and Social Affairs 11.21, Integration of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services: A Health Sector Priority (2003): 198. Web. <http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/family/trendsContraceptiveUse2015Report.pdf&gt;.


“The World Fact-book: Country Comparisons: Infant Mortality.” Central Intelligence Agency, 2015. Web. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

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By Michaela Gillis

Scientists are still puzzled by the Zika virus. Before 2007, only 14 people were documented to have Zika. No scientist was conducting research on the virus – it was not a subjective problem. People were experiencing flu like symptoms, nothing life threatening. Today, many mothers are wishing scientists took an interest nine years ago. Now, the race to find out what Zika is, is on. Scientists are currently invested in figuring out what Zika is. What causes Zika, how it is transmitted, how is causes birth defects.  This comes at a high price. The only reason, arguably, why Zika is being noticed by so many scientists now is because it causes an awful birth defect. The birth defect correlated with Zika is the shrinking heads of babies, and because of this, their brains are not able to fully develop. This is called microcephaly. As a public health advocate, I wish scientists would be engaged in viruses to prevent these problems, not research viruses because of these problems. I understand research funding comes into play when scientists apply for grants to conduct research, but that just means the entire system is flawed. My hope for the future is it will not be foolish to scientifically investigate people who only have flu-like symptoms, like the first people with the Zika virus.

Researchers are conducting case control studies, where they look at mothers with the virus and those who do not have the virus, to determine if Zika is definitely the cause of the birth defects being reported. Many doctors in Brazil were failing to report birth defects in babies, so who really knows how detrimental the problem really is.

The Zika virus has huge implications for women. While it is not proven Zika causes birth defects in any/all women, women are still going to be afraid to get pregnant. We need to think, not only about the present, but also of the implications for the future. After WWII in America, there was a rise in reproductive activity, and we now call that generation of children the baby boomers. What will we call this lack of generation in the future?

God forbid if Zika comes into the United States, it will bring a new light on the pro life pro choice argument. As if we needed another reason to not allow foreigners into our country, cough cough Trump.

Zika Virus Map

The Pope is not afraid of a fight. He suggested birth control could be used to prevent the spread of Zika, despite the Catholic Church’s ban on contraceptives. This highly affects places like Latin America, which is mostly consisted of people who are Catholic. Abortion in Latin America is illegal and it is very hard for women to obtain contraceptives. The Pope coming out and advocating for contraceptives because of Zika, may encourage areas like Latin America to make contraceptives more available to their women citizens. The government can warn women not to get pregnant all they want, but if they do not help provide resources to not get pregnant, their message will not be very successful. The virus is not women’s fault. The government should be trying to help the victims of this situation. The virus is the government’s responsibility, not women citizens.


Resource: vox.com

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