Poverty in the Philippines
As of 2015, 22 million Filipinos are still living in the depths of poverty. That equates to one-fifth of the population. Poverty presents itself in a vicious cycle affecting mainly the uneducated population who tend to live in large family units. These family units usually have only one head of the household who provides income for the entire family.

The Filipino government is actively trying to speed up its poverty reduction plan. Their long-term goal is to be able to provide more economic prospects, which in turn would help many of their citizens earn a higher and more stable income. A report by the World Bank shows how this economic growth helped decline the rate of poverty. Poverty in the Philippines dropped by 26.6 percent in 2006 to 21.6 percent in 2015.

Key Programs to Help Reduce Poverty in the Philippines

Some factors that resulted in the drop in poverty are the expansion of jobs outside the agriculture sector, government transfers and getting qualified Filipinos to help through the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. This particular program which is a government cash-handout project has helped reduce poverty by 25 percent.

Most of the Philippines are hit with massive typhoons and still have an armed conflict. These scenarios are a real struggle to the everyday worker who, even after a long day, still goes back home poor. Due to these factors, many citizens end up leaving behind farm work and go find work in manufacturing hubs in the urban areas of the country. These jobs outside the agricultural dome have accounted for two-thirds of the progress in reducing poverty in the Philippines.

One of the key strategies to help bring down poverty in the Philippines is providing birth control to the poor. In a radical move for the heavily populated Catholic country, the President made readily available birth control to nearly 6 million women who cannot afford it.

Providing birth control is a powerful tool for families who now have full control over family planning. The hope is by giving the women and family units more control, they will have fewer children. This, in turn, will mean that families can provide more responsibly.  This new policy will help the government reach its goal of reducing poverty by 13 percent by 2022.

The current Filipino population is at 104 million and continues to rise at an alarming rate of 1.7 percent each year. This new law will enable families to control how many children they want. It will also hopefully take down the population rate to 1.4 percent each year once the law is fully executed.

Government Hopeful About Achieving its Aim

Even though the Philippines have worked hard in the past to reduce their poverty and keep up with their neighbors China, Vietnam and Indonesia, they still have a long way to go. Marak K. Warwick of The World Bank believes that with a solid foundation there is a reason to be optimistic that the Philippines can achieve their goal.

The goal for the Philippine government is to create more jobs, improve productivity, invest in health and nutrition while focusing on reducing poverty. If the government is able to execute its plans successfully, it is capable of reducing poverty in the Philippines by 13 to 15 percent by 2022.

-Jennifer O’Brien
Photo: Flickr

Family Planning

Women are the key to smart family planning. By increasing access to sexual education and contraceptives, women gain the power to make decisions about their own health and the chances of economic success.

Kamla is a 22-year-old female from Gaya, India. She is a domestic helper and lives in a single room shanty with her husband and young daughter. She does not want another child anytime soon because she feels financially unable to care for one. However, she does not have access to information about contraceptives. Increasing access to information about sexual health should be a priority for four main reasons.

  1. Uncontrolled population growth is an economic barrier
    Nearly all population growth occurs in the developing world, and high fertility is an expensive burden on economies of these countries. High population growth limits opportunities for economic growth and increases health risks for both women and children. Quality of life suffers due to limited access to education, nutrition, employment and scarce resources such as clean water.
  2. Women want control over their fertility
    Surveys in developing countries suggest that 10 to 40 percent of women want to spread out or limit childbirth but do not have access to contraception. This demonstrates an unmet need for birth control. The biggest barriers for women are lack of knowledge and concerns of undesirable health effects.
  3. Quality of life is enhanced
    Family planning improves the lives of both women and children. Reducing the fertility rate would save many women from dying during childbirth. In developing countries, maternal mortality rates are 20 times higher than in developed countries. Increased access to contraceptives also benefits children. Children born fewer than two years apart are twice as likely to die in the first year of life as children born further apart. Being unable to spread out pregnancies also interferes with breast-feeding, which has a crucial role in child nutrition.
  4. Gender equality is advanced
    Improvements in gender equality result from the power that contraceptives give women. Teen pregnancies interfere with education and unwanted pregnancies at any life stage interfere with a woman’s economic power. Giving women control over their bodies and family size allows them to make smarter economic decisions for themselves and their family.

The Challenge Initiative is a $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote reproductive health in developing countries. A previous initiative funded by this foundation showed promise in increasing contraceptive access in certain cities in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and India.

Based on rigorous data collected from the earlier initiative, The Challenge Initiative will use demand-based methods and partnerships with cities in order to implement successful programs in a variety of locations. If philanthropic organizations continue to invest in this solution, people – especially women – around the world will soon reap the benefits of family planning.

Kristen Nixon

Photo: Flickr

Family Planning Initiatives in Malawi Help to Stop Population Growth
Malawi is a small, landlocked country, in southeastern Africa, with a population that is expected to triple in the next 30 years. This reality, along with the fact that it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, has led Malawi’s political leaders and health care industry to dedicate time and money into implementing comprehensive access to family planning services (FP). Family planning is defined as a deliberate use of contraceptive methods by a couple in order to limit or space out the number of children that they have.

Through increased service delivery resources, political commitment, improved financial means and communication with receptive communities, Malawians now have more acceptable and affordable options regarding FP services than they did several years ago. The 2015-2016 Demographic and Health Survey reported that 59 percent of married women were using modern methods of contraception. This compares to only 28 percent in 2004.

Recognizing that the demand for FP was growing consistently, political commitment to stopping population growth began to reflect in core national policies in the mid-2000’s. The National Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Policy of 2009 provided a framework for the delivery of all-inclusive services and encouraged access to information and improved quality of care.

The government of Malawi also recognizes that improvements in sexual and reproductive health correlate directly to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Three areas, in particular, relate: the improvement of maternal health, promotion of women’s empowerment and reduction of child mortality.

In regards to finances, multiple international organizations have contributed heavily to the development of FP services. Financial resources have been put directly into two programs. The first with a goal of establishing and making accessible an Essential Health Package, which includes FP, available for free to all Malawians. The second is working to implement an Emergency Human Resources Program, which focuses on training and deploying certified health professionals.

With the help of these programs, the total health provider density in Malawi increased significantly from 2004 to 2009. Those advocating for FP in Malawi recognize that with most Malawian’s living in rural areas, it is important to bring services and information directly to the people. Awareness of this need is what has allowed for the success of FP in the country.

A culture of acceptance when it comes to the use of modern contraceptives has been indoctrinated in Malawi at a community level. The government of Malawi has made a concentrated effort to emphasize the benefits of FP. Not only does access to FP services increase a woman’s health and economic opportunities, it also goes hand in hand with preventing unplanned births and unsafe abortions, both of which are a common occurrence throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

The efforts of Malawi’s Government have allowed for substantial strides in family planning. In the past several decades, their commitment has helped tremendously to normalize the use of modern contraceptives and for equitable access to sexual and reproductive health services across the country.

Peyton Jacobsen

Photo: Flickr

Prevent the Zika Virus

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the “Zika virus disease (Zika) is a disease caused by the Zika virus which is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito.” The disease can cause symptoms like fever, rash and joint pain, although most symptoms go unnoticed. Learning to prevent the Zika virus, then, is imperative.

The most severe symptom is microcephaly, which is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with smaller than average-sized heads. This is of grave concern to pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant who have traveled or have partners who have traveled to countries where the disease is present.

Although there are currently no vaccines for the disease, there are five easy steps you can take to prevent the Zika virus from reaching you or your loved ones:

  1. Wear the right repellant. The CDC recommends wearing repellant registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because it contains ingredients such as lemon eucalyptus oil and DEET. Repellants registered with EPA are also evaluated for effectiveness.
  2. Use clothing as a repellant. Wearing long sleeves and pants in a place where mosquitos present can also reduce your risk of a Zika virus infection. It is even more effective if the clothes are treated with permethrin.
  3. Avoid exercising outdoors. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide and heat, both of which are heavily emitted when exercising. To avoid being swarmed by mosquitoes, it is best to exercise indoors in an air-conditioned room.
  4. Properly secure buildings. Residing in buildings that have screens over its doors and windows and are properly ventilated with air-conditioning can prevent mosquitoes from entering and protect you while you sleep. Placing netting over cribs and strollers can help protect babies as well, especially since they may be too young to safely use mosquito repellant.
  5. Practice safe sex. The Zika virus disease can be transferred from men during unprotected sex. To prevent transferring the disease, using condoms and abstaining from sex are the best methods after or during visitation to a country with the Zika virus. This information is crucial for women who are trying to become pregnant.

The fight to eliminate the Zika virus has skyrocketed, resulting in incredible scientific innovations. For instance, scientists from the U.K. have released genetically modified male mosquitoes who cause populations of local mosquitoes to fall.

Another technique includes inserting a gene drive into mosquitoes to make them unable to host the Zika virus within their bodies.

Researchers are also utilizing cellphones to track and record people’s movements and use this data for documenting Zika hotspots throughout the world.

As more techniques on how to prevent the Zika virus are discovered, all hope that the spread of the disease can be contained effectively.

Julia Hettiger

Photo: Flickr

tracking healthcare dataWith assistance from UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in India has introduced an Android-based tablet application called Auxiliary Nurse Midwives Online (ANMOL). This app makes recording and tracking healthcare data easier and more efficient.

In India, there are 293,000 Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM), according to UNICEF. They are village-level health workers and are the first point of contact between communities and health services in India.

Typically, ANMs serve 3,000 to 5,000 people each and their work consists of providing primary health care services, nutrition and immunization programs, as well as child health and family planning services.

One crucial aspect of their job is collecting and tracking healthcare data. This is often seen as a slow, time-consuming process since ANMs must enter the data into registers, which are eventually entered into a central server.

The time spent maintaining registries could easily be reduced, which is ANMOL’s main objective. Manually updating the information is also problematic, as there are risks of information being entered incorrectly, or too late.

The ANMOL app is a multifaceted mobile tablet-based application and offers a solution to improving data collection and the overall standards of child and maternal health service provision in India.

It makes the work of ANMs paperless, bringing them online and exponentially reduces the time it takes to enter healthcare data into the central database.

“[ANMs] are able to use the tablets to enter and update the service records of beneficiaries on real time basis, ensuring prompt data entry and updates,” stated a report by UNICEF.

“ANMOL is aimed at improving the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of the delivery of quality services, specifically to rural populations, to ensure better healthcare for women and children,” said Dr. Srihari Dutta, Health Specialist at UNICEF India.

The app brings awareness to rural populations and educates them on different healthcare initiatives.

India, the world’s second most populous country, will benefit greatly from such an application, which allows for rapid entry of millions of individuals’ health information.

According to Matters India, in addition to data collection, ANMOL complements the roles of ANMs as counselors by providing readily available information about newborns, pregnant women and mothers in their respective areas.

“Prevention and awareness about non-communicable diseases, which are largely linked to our way of living, dietary habits, and lack of exercise will go a long way in ensuring that the country remains healthy,” said Shri J.P. Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare.

On April 6, 2016, the Ministry of Health tweeted, “ANMOL App is Aadhaar enabled and will help in the authentication of records of field workers and beneficiaries. #digital health #TransformingIndia.”

Michelle Simon

Photo: Flickr

Village HopeCoreVillage HopeCore International, a nonprofit working to end poverty in the rural regions of Kenya, was founded in 1982 by Dr. Kajira “KK” Mugambi.

A native of Kenya and former resident of a village located at the foothills of Mt. Kenya, Mugambi started this organization 19 years after leaving Kenya in pursuit of an education in the United States. Mugambi used the skills and knowledge he acquired while in school to give back to his home country.

The organization divides its efforts into two main programs: their Microenterprise Program and their Public Health Program.

The Microenterprise Program relies on microloans to help local business owners and entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running. It consists of six steps:

  • The first step involves forming a group. This allows participants to support one another throughout the program.
  • The second step is what they call the “Merry-Go-Round.” This step requires the participants to donate a small amount of money once a month. One member receives these donations and it rotates each month until every member has received funds. These funds give the members the opportunity to start or sustain a business.
  • The third step involves distributing a “soft” loan. Once the members successfully complete step two, they are granted a loan of approximately $350. The group may then divide the money amongst themselves at their discretion. This step is used to teach them how to repay loans and for the organization to evaluate their ability to work as a group.
  • After the soft loans are distributed and paid back, the group moves onto the fourth step. Here, each member is given a hard loan that is expected to be paid back within two years. This loan gives the members more of an opportunity to grow and expand their businesses.
  • After this step, they proceed to the fifth step, which involves paying back the loans and creating a group loan security fund just in case any of them default on their loan.
  • The final step has the group engage in monthly meetings to support one another in their endeavors.

The Public Health Program helps counter many health issues in Kenya, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. It is divided into five different areas of focus:

  • The first one involves microenterprises, much like their other program, but instead, the funds are distributed to counter health issues.
  • Their second area of focus is a series of mobile health clinics and schools that are placed throughout rural Kenya. In total, they have 72 schools, with more than 20,000 students in 393 villages. These clinics provide clinical services, classroom health education, malaria bed nets and deworming medication.
  • Thirdly, Village HopeCore International provides villages with clean water systems and hand hygiene equipment for schools. This includes health clubs, tanks and hardware and monitoring and maintenance. They have these programs in more than 180 schools, reaching nearly 45,000 students in 516 villages.
  • The fourth aspect involves helping expectant mothers and children under the age of five, providing them with family planning services, deworming medication, Vitamin A and health education. Every year, they help around 9,000 families in 200 villages.
  • Finally, they assist with planning parenthood through clinical services, youth centers and health education.

Village HopeCore International recently received worldwide recognition for their services and the positive impact they are having on communities in rural regions of Kenya. In the future, the organization hopes to expand their reach throughout Western Africa.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: Street Insider, Village HopeCore, 2SenseWorth
Photo: Village HopeCore International

health_education_for_women
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across southern Asia have developed programs in line with the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health education for women.

SDG #3 aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages, and SDG #5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

In Bangalore, India, mDhil, an online medical resource center, has developed social media campaigns that provide important health education for women. The organization has created a variety of videos that inform women about topics such as menstruation, pregnancy and hormones. mDhil content reaches over 2.5 million people each month.

These videos are available in many local languages, are easily accessible and can be viewed in private. In a survey, mDhil found that 60 percent of women prefer watching videos about intimate health issues rather than visiting a doctor.

Because most doctors offering healthcare for women were male, most women did not feel comfortable discussing family planning or reproductive health with them.

mDhil is empowering girls and women by giving them the information to better understand their bodies and make choices to better their health.

In Bangladesh, the HERHealth project aims to educate female factory workers on their health. Women employed in large factories tend to come from low-income backgrounds and work in unsafe, unhealthy conditions.

Using peer educators, HERHealth raises awareness on common diseases such as anemia and reproductive tract infections. Their health education for women even includes family members and communities of the female factory workers. Reportedly, this has resulted in decreasing cases of cholera.

The quality of work from factories involved with HERHealth has improved because the female workers are less likely to miss work due to injury or sickness. The impact of HERHealth is also met with factory managers asking for the same program for male workers.

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, the first Human Milk Human Babies Bank opened, allowing mothers to share their extra milk. The milk bank provides mothers the opportunity to give milk to other mothers who do not have enough milk to feed their own babies.

The founder of the bank, Trinh Tuan, also started a Youtube channel called the Journey of Breastmilk to allow women to share maternal and childcare knowledge.

NGOs in the global south are working towards the SDGs, particularly health education for women, and are making a difference using peer training, technology and sharing strategies and knowledge.

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: URB, Huffington Post, UN
Photo: Google Images

Youth pregnancies in Côte d’Ivoire declined by an astounding 20 percent since the Zero Pregnancies in School Campaign began in 2013, according to the United Nations Population Fund. This campaign is part of a nationwide plan, supported with technical and financial assistance from UNFPA, to enable young people to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

During the 2012-2013 academic year, 5,076 students became pregnant in primary or secondary school, reported the Ivorian Ministry of National and Technical Education. While the teen-age birth rate globally is 50 per 1,000 girls, in Côte d’Ivoire, the number is 125.

The 2013 UNFPA State of World Population report found that 7.3 million girls, 18-years-old and younger, give birth each year in developing countries. This reality is both a health issue as well as a development issue. Many pregnant girls are forced to drop out of school creating downward-spiraling repercussions of limited prospects.

“It is deeply rooted in poverty, gender inequality, violence, child and forced marriage, power imbalances between adolescent girls and their male partners, lack of education, and the failure of systems and institutions to protect their rights,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director.

The high birth rates in Côte d’Ivoire undermine the country’s ability to take advantage of a demographic dividend. A demographic dividend is a window of opportunity to hasten economic growth when a population’s age structure shifts from one with fewer people of working age (15 to 65) to one with fewer dependent people (under 14 and over 65).

In response to this situation, the Ivorian Council of Ministers formally adopted the accelerated pregnancies reduction plan on April 2, 2014. The plan is a comprehensive program that integrates sexuality education in Côte d’Ivoire, teaching over several years starting in 4th grade to provide age-appropriate information at each stage.

Based on human rights principles, sexuality education encompasses more than sex education. The fundamental components of the curriculum feature the information about the human body, contraception and sexual and reproductive health. This includes knowledge about sexually-transmitted diseases and the effects of early pregnancy. The curriculum also addresses the issues of child marriage and gender-based violence so that human rights, gender equality and the empowerment of young people is advanced.

The comprehensive program offers other school activities beyond the classroom. Nationally, student clubs are being formed to raise awareness, and an arts and culture festival is planned where students can display their creative endeavors, such as plays, poems, stories and drawings about pregnancy in school. UNFPA has helped the government open a call center that provides free, confidential information. To disseminate information about health and services, various media, such as leaflets, videos, radio announcements and SMS messages will be disseminated.

Much of the needed education involves demystifying contraception and pregnancy. Amina, a pregnant student, revealed: “I did not take contraceptives because my mom told me that it might make me sterile.” Some girls are also told that not getting pregnant by age 15 or 16, “is a problem,” remarked Clarissa, 22.

The Zero Pregnancies in School Campaign was launched in Bondoukou, the most affected area in Côte d’Ivoire. Students in the region brought banners to the event with such messages as “Zero pregnancy in school, I endorse it,” “You don’t get a child pregnant” and “I am a child. A child doesn’t bear a child. A child goes to school to succeed.”

The government is making even further changes. Laws have been introduced that increase penalties for the sexual abuse of minors. Most significantly, this includes sanctions against teachers who abuse their students. Girls are often pressured into sex with teachers in order to get good grades.

Additionally, the government is planning to build better housing for the 10,000 to 15,000 students in cities that must board. This will enable the young students to have proper housing where boys and girls do not have to share a room.

The government also no longer expels girls when they are pregnant, and girls are returning to school after giving birth. Amina told UNFPA, “My mom takes care of my baby when I come to school.” Clarissa’s mom also takes care of her son. Clarissa explained to UNFPA that she still has her dreams: “I lost a school year,” but “I want to become a teacher.”

Janet Quinn

Sources: UNFPA, UNFPA, Demographic Dividend, UNFPA
Photo: WCARO

mobile_family_planning
Janani, an affiliate of DKT International, has started a mobile family planning project. Twenty outreach teams in vans provide family planning services to rural and hard-to-reach areas in India. This helps expand access to family planning options.

The vans specifically visit regions where family planning is unavailable and where birth rates are exceptionally high, like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. According to the last India National Family Health Survey in 2005-2006, the average birth rate in Bihar was 4.0 children and the average birth rate in Uttar Pradesh was 3.82 children. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have the highest and second highest birth rates in all of India. Even so, the mobile family planning project can help women postpone or eliminate the option of pregnancy.

Janani offers IUDs, tubal litigation, condoms, oral contraceptives, injectables and emergency contraceptives for women. Additionally, the project offers non-scalpel vasectomies for men. This project helps promote long-term contraceptives, like the IUD, and permanent methods, like tubal litigation and vasectomies.

Doctors, nurses/midwives, van coordinators, attendants and drivers all make up each team. About four to nine people are in each van to serve Indian communities. The vans have a counseling chamber, audio-visual equipment and medicines and equipment needed for IUD insertion. The nurse/midwives are trained for counseling and IUD insertion in Patna at the Surya Clinic and Training Centre, which is owned by Janani.

The teams in each van serve around 10 to 15 new clients and about five to eight follow-up clients per day. Each team also makes up to 15 days of visits per month. Janani serves between 2,000 and 3,000 new clients and 1,000 and 1,500 follow-up clients each month. While it is important to care for new clients, it is also beneficial to conduct follow-up appointments with previous clients.

Janani aims to help women and men in rural and low-income areas. Improved access to family planning can help individuals who do not want to have children. Additionally, this could help keep more children out of poverty, considering that women may not want to have children if they are in a low-income household. Furthermore, this could help address the issue of overpopulation in India. Solutions such as mobile family planning are innovative and reach individuals who previously may not have access to family planning options.

Ella Cady

Sources: DKT International, Impatient Optimists
Photo: Impatient Optimists

Thailand: An Experiment in Family Planning
In Thailand in 1974 most families had seven children each, establishing an average growth rate of 3.3 percent. Having upwards of seven children put many women at risk for pregnancy related deaths and often led to many children being raised in mother-less homes. With such a high growth rate, much of Thailand’s population was quickly descending into poverty as there was not enough money and there were too many mouths to feed.

In order to combat this decline Mechai Viravaidya decided to start at the root of the issue, the women who had no control over how many children they would bear. After discussing family planning with several women, they decided that providing a pill was a great option for some women. However, this only covered around 20 percent of the population.

This did not hinder them.

Adapting the Coca-Cola model, Viravaidya and his team sought out well-respected individuals in each community to provide locals with family planning advice and devices, primarily birth control pills and condoms. It was the condom that took off. They were sold at local stores, on floating markets, handed out by the police, given to children in school, handed out in key chains, they were taking the nation by storm.

Soon, the team met some push-back from the religious community, but after talking with leaders, several monks actually blessed the condoms and contraceptives with holy water, thus making them something that everyone could utilize without feeling as if they were sinning. They then went to the military, which helped to advise local populations on the risks of HIV and AIDS, and they handed out condoms at traffic stops. Mechai became Thailand’s own “Mr. Condom.”

They soon went to the schools to educate children on the risks associated with unprotected sex, but they made it enjoyable. The team developed games that promoted family planning initiatives and condom balloon competitions, and in five years trained over 300,000 teachers in family planning methods. This meant that students now had people to talk to should they have any questions, and were thus able to advise their own parents on proper methods of family planning.

By 2000 the average amount of children per family was 1.5 and the growth rate had dropped to 0.5 percent, which meant that there were fewer individuals living in poverty and more children with greater opportunities for education and work in the future.

As the AIDS epidemic hit Thailand, their contraceptive commotion kicked into high gear, they were providing education on safe sex throughout all the villages, targeting high school students who then taught younger students, who then taught their parents. Thanks to the safe-sex brigade, Captain Condom and several other key players, the AIDS rate in Thailand went down by 90 percent, and the World Bank estimates that 7.7 million lives were saved because of this.

Thailand should act as an example for the rest of the world. Currently, sex and contraceptives have such a taboo upon them that several kids are petrified to even ask questions about basic safety precautions. They are afraid of judgement from store clerks and doctors, but if we normalize sex as a part of culture, we allow people to be more open and thus safer. If we take away the taboo associated with sex and perhaps even hand out free condoms and have free consultations with nurses and midwives about pills, we can reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs in our own nations. Although Thailand is a relatively small nation, it has shown us that small changes can make a huge difference.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: TED talks, Advocates for Youth
Photo: Flickr