Women's Health

A tray of supplies, including household vinegar, used for screening patients. Masufu Hospital, Uganda. {Photo credit: M. Miller/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Miller/MSH.

Using a basic household item like vinegar to screen for a deadly disease is one of those "Aha!" solutions that will save lives. I had never imagined that I’d get to see the procedure in action.

Cervical cancer kills some 250,000 women every year -- over 80 percent from low-income countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Early diagnosis can save lives, but many health facilities in developing countries struggle to find a way to screen women in remote, overcrowded settings. Last year, The New York Times talked about the success of using vinegar as a cervical cancer diagnostic method in Thailand, and yesterday SHOTS, NPR's health blog documented its life-saving use in Botswana.

Uganda. {Photo credit: Paydos/MSH.}Photo credit: Paydos/MSH.

The Ugandan government launched a new prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) strategy on September 12.

Uganda will transition from an approach based on the World Health Organization's (WHO) Option A --- which is contingent on an HIV-positive pregnant woman’s CD4 count --- to WHO's newest PMTCT strategy, Option B+.

Option B+ — whereby HIV-positive pregnant women receive lifelong treatment, regardless of their CD4 levels — originated in 2010 when the Malawian government decided to combine antiretroviral therapy (ART) with PMTCT in response to the challenges of providing reliable CD4 testing in remote settings.

The WHO updated its PMTCT guidelines with Option B+ in April of this year.

{Photo credit: MSH/Democratic Republic of the Congo.}Photo credit: MSH/Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On this historic World Population Day --- the first with the world’s population at seven billion and growing --- we call your attention to a crucial summit in London happening today, and to the ongoing importance of supporting access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health.

The London Summit

Over one hundred high-level decision-makers are convening at The London Summit on Family Planning in hopes of securing a better future for women and girls globally. Hosted by the UK government and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with UNFPA and others, the summit seeks to provide an additional 120 million women in resource-poor countries with lifesaving contraceptives, information and family planning services by 2020.

Rabi giving a public awareness lecture on HIV in her locality. {Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria.}Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria.

Rabi gives a public awareness lecture on HIV. (Photo credit: MSH, Nigeria)

Forty-year old Rabi Suleiman lives in Koko Besse area in Kebbi state, Nigeria. She is married without children. Rabi, who now lives with her third husband, recalls that her ordeal with illness and social ostracism began in 2009. Rabi’s three marriages were the result of her inability to conceive, and a continuous search for a partner with whom she could successfully bear children. In the course of her marriages she contracted HIV.

Weakened by continuous infections and emaciated beyond recognition, Rabi recalls that she was abandoned, equated to animal status and locked up in a hut meant for cattle in her family home. Her meals were pushed to her through a door opening by relations who refused to look her in the face.

Today, Rabi has a new story to tell. With the assistance of the Prevention Organizational Systems AIDS Care and Treatment (ProACT) project outreach team, Rabi was enrolled with the USAID-supported ProACT antiretroviral therapy (ART) program in the General Hospital, Koko, late in 2009.

Sophia is now the go-to person for family planning and reproductive health services at Rwesande health center IV in western Uganda. {Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: M. Hartley/MSH.

Sophia is a humble woman. She has been working as a nurse for 10 years, and is currently one of five nurses posted at Rwesande health center IV in the hills of western Uganda.

When I arrived I was impressed by the number of services the health center offers, and the general appreciation felt around the compound. Rwesande health center IV has a maternity ward to safely deliver babies; counseling areas for family planning, reproductive health, and HIV; a general ward, a surgery theater, and health education space.

Family planning counseling and services now available

As Sophia shows me her meticulously-kept record books I can see the pride she takes in her work. She explained how women are now coming and asking for family planning services.

Not too long ago clients were not coming, and the nurses didn’t have proper training on methods to offer clients.

Ezekiel Kyasesa, village health team coordinator in western Uganda. {Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.

Ezekiel Kyasesa is a village health team coordinator and supervisor in Kasese District, western Uganda. He supports 11 villages, 90 parishes, and 2 health centers.

Ezekiel has been working in community health for a few years, but only on a small scale. A year ago, he was selected to attend a training provided by STRIDES for Family Health to learn new family planning, child survival, and reproductive health information and the skills to become a village health team member. He was then nominated by his peers to become the coordinator and supervisor.

Now Ezekiel is educated and has the skills to go out to the communities and talk to people about the benefits of going to the health center for a range of services. The village health teams are a crucial link to sharing knowledge and information between the clinics and the communities.

Ezekiel and his village health team visit 10 households two days each week (20 visits per team member each week). He explained that they discuss with the mothers --- the key person to a healthy family --- four topics:

Women, men and children stand in line at the St. Joseph's Health Center in Abricots, Haiti. {Photo credit: Gumy Dorvilmar/MSH.}Photo credit: Gumy Dorvilmar/MSH.

It was 11 o’clock one February morning when the Santé pour le Développement et la Stabilité d’Haiti (SDSH) project technical team arrived on site at St. Joseph Health Center.

The center’s activities were well underway. Dozens of people sat on benches or stood in line, waiting for their turn. One person comes to care for her child who has had a high fever. Another comes for contraception. Another just gave birth to a healthy infant.

St. Joseph Health Center is located in Abricots, a remote community in the department of Grande’Anse, Haiti, far from Port-au-Prince. Abricots is nearly inaccessible because of rough terrain and hazardous mountain trails.

Since 2007, with support from the USAID-funded SDSH project, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), St. Joseph Health Center has provided a basic package of health services: pediatrics, maternal health, reproductive health, detection and treatment of sexually-transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and family planning.

This free clinic is the only health institution in this hard-to-reach area, serving an estimated 32,000 people.

Speakers at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights. {Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.}Photo credit: PAHO/WHO.

Health is a human right and should not be denied based on any factor, including gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

On March 21 and 22, 2012, law students, global health professionals, and human rights experts gathered at the Inaugural Conference on Global Health, Gender and Human Rights at American University to discuss tackling global health issues from a human rights perspective.

Co-hosted by the American University Washington College of Law, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Guatemala, the two-day conference focused on six crucial topics: disabilities, women's and adolescent girls’ health, gender identities, older persons, access to medicines, and tobacco control.

Speakers and participants articulated the important role gender and human rights play in the promotion of health around the world.

(Left to right) Aaron Musiimenta, assistant regional behavior change communication officer; Tadeo Atuhura, STRIDES for Family Health communications specialist; Dr. Baseka Yusuf, district health officer; and Kevin Kisembo, principal nursing officer and STRIDES focal person. Kasese, Uganda. {Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.}Photo credit: Margaret Hartley/MSH.

The Kasese district in western Uganda is nestled between two national parks. Located hours from the capital city, Kampala, the region attracts tourists to view gorillas and mountain birds.

During my recent trip to Uganda, I met with Dr. Yusuf Baseka, the district health officer of Kasese, who described the health challenges his district faces, and his hopes for the future.

Although the national parks are beautiful and bring a much needed economic boost to the area, they also offer a challenge, Dr. Baseka explained.  The population growth and fertility rate of the district are very high. With the two national parks, there is no land for expansion. The town of Kasese is rapidly becoming a slum with unsanitary conditions that are difficult to address.

Another challenge in his district is that children are not going to or staying in school. They are leaving secondary school early and engaging in risky sexual behaviors. He explains, “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in young mothers, under 18 years, some as young as 12.” Their pregnancies offer unique challenges for the health system to address.

Dr. Sima Samar speaking on 'How to advance women's rights in developing countries.' {Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.}Photo from World Bank webcast, March 5, 2012.

On Monday, March 5, 2012, everyone from policymakers to students gathered at the World Bank for a Special Event on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Women’s Rights.

CEDAW is a treaty that has been ratified worldwide by all but six countries --- the United States, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga).

The event was hosted by Caroline Anstey, Managing Director of the World Bank, in conjunction with the Nordic Trust Fund, The Leadership Conference Education Fund, and the United Nations Foundation.

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