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Period Poverty in Guatemala As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge: their menstruation cycle. Period poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time.  However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits to supporting women in girlhood and throughout the rest of their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls (DFG) Kit, education on hygiene and sanitation, training and general support. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward destigmatizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of a multitude of necessities for a period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users of the patented kit say the items can last up to three years. Specifically, these kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep users comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also hand makes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty.

Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand mobilizing teams and chapters. Currently, they have over 15 countries with enterprises. Importantly, the group has an office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production in the country.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project stems from a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women. The organization develops and implements workshops and home visits where they provide educational materials on reproductive health and local resources.

In addition to education, The GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable and long-lasting.

Included in the kit there are:

  • Fertility bracelets with instructions
  • Shields that are barriers for any leakage
  • Flannel cotton pads
  • Soap
  • Gallon bag for washing use
  • Underwear

In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the project has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The kit provides up to three years’ worth of period products and a lifetime of birth control. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

SERniña Founder, Danielle Skogen, lived in Guatemala for three years working as a teacher. During her time, she noticed a need for health and hygiene education. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to bring about curriculums to educate and help eradicate period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, facilitators work with the women to be confident and take care of their hygienic needs. Trained local women who are certified facilitators for SERniña teach all of the organization’s lessons. The program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love.  As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

As shown above, the efforts of each organization play an important role in the Guatemalan community. Education, access and support truly uplift the local women. The work to eradicate period poverty in Guatemala can continue thanks to aid from organizations like these.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Cafe Femenino FoundationEstimates place women’s involvement in coffee production at as high as 70% of all the labor, making women an integral part of the coffee industry. However, women face high levels of gender discrimination within the industry in terms of access to “land, credit and information”, resulting in lower incomes and crop yields when compared to men. The Cafe Femenino Foundation looks to change this.

Cafe Femenino Foundation

Noticing the inequity, Garth and Gay Smith founded the Cafe Femenino Foundation in 2004 to empower women working in the coffee industry. The nonprofit organization provides grants to women’s coffee collectives in nine countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Sumatra. The grants can be used for a vast range of initiatives including food security, income diversification and health, to empower women socially, politically and economically.

Food Security Initiatives

Cafe Femenino Foundation provides grants to combat food insecurity in multiple countries’ coffee-growing regions, which also helps women earn extra income. In Peru, training sessions teach women how to preserve fruits to prevent spoiling and extend the period during which they can be eaten. Preserved fruit can also be sold at markets when the supply of fresh fruit is diminished, allowing the women to sell for higher prices. Women who participated in the training sessions went home with 10 cans of each fruit they preserved, which is credited with helping lower rates of child malnutrition in the regions.

Similarly, in the Dominican Republic, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants supported women’s coffee collectives to start growing passionfruit and breed both cows and goats. Passionfruit is used in many foods and drinks, making it popular among the women themselves and at the markets. Since 2009, more than 200 women and their family members have benefitted from access to passionfruit. The goat and cow breeding initiatives provide women with milk and meat to feed their families and to sell for additional income. As of 2013, almost 30 women participated in the animal breeding programs.

Health Initiatives

In Colombia, grants have been given by Cafe Femenino Foundation to the COSURCA coffee cooperative to improve women’s health through kitchen remodeling. Since kitchens are traditionally women’s spaces, they are often not remodeled and are constructed of poor materials with dirt floors. The kitchens of 18 women have been remodeled as of 2013 to include outdoor ventilation that prevents smoke inhalation and running water to improve cleanliness and hygiene.

Cafe Femenino Foundation has provided similar grants in Peru to improve health conditions by improving stoves. The new stoves decrease smoke inhalation and respiratory illnesses that occur as a result.

Women’s Empowerment Initiatives

Also in Peru, Cafe Femenino Foundation grants have supported the building of community safe spaces, called Casa Cafe Femenino, for women in multiple coffee-growing communities. These spaces provide women with opportunities to meet and talk in places that are not “borrowed from the men”, promoting women’s independence and agency. Casa Cafe Femeninos are also able to act as temporary shelters for women facing domestic violence. As of 2013, these spaces benefitted more than 800 women from two coffee collectives.

Cafe Femenino Foundation also supports the education of women. In Peru, the nonprofit helped five women complete training to be promoted to the role of internal coffee inspector, giving these women more power within the coffee industry. In the early years of the nonprofit, a grant provided scholarships for 600 girls, all of who were the daughters of coffee producers, to attend school.

Equality in the Coffee Industry

The coffee industry is made up largely of women yet these women face gender discrimination and inequality. Cafe Femenino Foundation strives to eliminate the gender gap in coffee production by providing grants to women’s coffee collectives in a range of areas, including food security, health and women’s empowerment based on the needs of the women. The projects, while benefitting the women, also help to teach leadership and problem-solving skills through a democratic process of distribution, furthering women’s empowerment.

– Sydney Leiter
Photo: pixabay

Women and Pandemics
Most healthcare workers on the front lines are female, but there is another pandemic that plagues women during times of health crises: gender inequality. Epidemics and pandemics further gender inequality as women struggle socioeconomically and in healthcare. Gender equality can combat world poverty, but diseases can slow societal advancement for women.

Society and the Economy

Globally, 740 million women work low-paid and informal jobs, which they are quick to lose during pandemics and epidemics. The livelihoods of women are at risk with an increase in job insecurity and job loss during times of crisis. During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, closed borders caused women to face much higher unemployment rates than men since 85% of cross-border traders are women.

In the developing world, 70% of women work informal jobs, but women’s unpaid labor boosts global economies and should not be ignored. According to the United Nations Foundation, “women on average do three times more unpaid care work than men.” Women who work to care for their families bring in $1.5 trillion to the world GDP. Jobs without pay create even more inequality as women stay at home, complete domestic tasks and care for the sick. The burden of caring for the ill in the family puts women at a greater risk of falling ill. More West African women were affected by Ebola because they worked in hospitals or aided the sick at home.

A shelter-in-place due to pandemics can result in girls dropping out of school and puts women at a higher risk for violence. As seen from the Ebola outbreak, closures of schools put young girls at high risk for pregnancy and child marriage. During country-wide lockdowns in 2020, women have to remain with their abusers. Domestic violence against women tripled in China and increased by 30% in France. Even more shocking, some use the exposure of COVID-19 as a means of suppression against women.

Healthcare

Although 70% of health workers are women, men make most of the decisions in the healthcare sector. Only 27% of women are executives in world healthcare. This gender segregation in healthcare leaves women in lower roles and creates a bias towards men. Personal protective equipment uses male sizes and thus does not protect female workers as effectively. In Spain, 5,265 out of 7,329 health workers infected by COVID-19 were women. Data collection may ignore gender in some studies, which makes it harder to understand the current trends and how they affect women.

While most healthcare resources are focused on fighting pandemics, women’s health may be overlooked. More women in Sierra Leone died from obstetric complications than from Ebola. COVID-19 will likely cause 18 million women to not be able to acquire contraceptives in Central and South America. Providing fewer health services during pandemics has detrimental effects on women’s health.

Operation 50/50

Pandemics affect both men and women, but 80% of the WHO Emergency Committee on COVID-19 are men. In order to provide women with more representation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations has created the campaign Operation 50/50. The campaign aims to accomplish five goals: recruiting more women for leadership roles, valuing women’s unpaid care work, providing better conditions for health care workers, utilizing gender attentive data and funding NGOs for women. Around the world, women have a high risk of exposure to disease, whether that be in the healthcare field or staying at home with the sick. Elimination of gender inequality in healthcare will increase safety for women during global pandemics.

Hannah Nelson
Photo: Pixabay

Women’s Health in IndiaWomen’s health in India is still vulnerable to several risks such as high maternal mortality rates, lack of preventative care and misinformation about family planning and contraception. Despite this, India has proven itself a pioneer in technological innovation among developing countries and it is putting its new innovations towards improving women’s healthcare. 

Maternal Health and Newborn Development

Although maternal mortality rates in India have declined substantially in the last decade, the number of recorded deaths related to pregnancy complications in the country is still remarkably high. A report by UNICEF estimates that 44,000 women die due to preventable pregnancy-complications in India yearly. These complications often stem from a lack of knowledge and inherently the inability to understand that their baby isn’t developing correctly. This lack of knowledge results in fewer women seeking treatment that could save their lives. To combat this, organizations are developing innovative mobile apps to help women stay proactive and educated about the health of their babies and the status of their pregnancies. 

For example, in 2014, MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), an organization dedicated to women’s maternal health in developing countries, developed a digital service called mMitra. The service sends recordings and SMS messages to new and expectant mothers with crucial information about the early stages of pregnancy and child development within the first year of life. The app, which collected 50,000 subscribers within months of its launch, sends educational content to women in their native languages and at times of their choosing. The app,  mMitra ultimately aims to help women pick up on pregnancy and child development issues early and seek treatment before symptoms escalate or endanger the mother and child. 

Breast Exams and Preventative Care

Mammograms are an essential part of preventative care for women globally. Despite this, it is estimated that over 90 percent of women in the developing world go without this essential screening examination. Particularly, in India, high-costs, unsustainable electricity and lack of properly trained radiologists are major causes for the inaccessibility to mammograms and other procedures like it. More women die of breast cancer in the country than anywhere else in the world (around 70,000 women annually). While these high death rates due to inaccessibility to preventive care are tragic, they’ve inspired innovative medical devices that have revolutionized women’s health in India. 

One such device, known as iBreastExam was invented by computer engineer Mihir Shah. Shah invented the device to ensure that women in even the most rural parts of India could get affordable, accurate breast exams and seek treatments as needed. The battery-operated wireless machine is designed to record variations in breast elasticity and performs full examinations in five minutes, posting and recording results through a mobile app. Not only that, the exams are painless, radiation-free and are extremely affordable at $1 to $4 per exam.

Family Planning and Contraceptive Options

Lack of family planning and knowledge of contraceptive options is another challenge in improving women’s health in India. Many Indian women shy away from modern family planning and contraception due to things like familial expectations, cultural influence and a general fear stemming from misinformation from disreputable resources. Family planning and the use of contraception could reduce India’s high maternal mortality rates. However, without proper education on these matters, it is difficult for young Indian women to make informed decisions about what options are best for them. But, in the midst of India’s technological revolution, an increase in accessibility to mobile devices is steadily transforming the way women are gaining health awareness in India. 

There is a particular mobile app that is playing a huge role in improving women’s health awareness in India. Known as Gyan Jyoti, the mobile app provides credible information through educational films, TV advertisements and expert testimonials from doctors. It also acts as a counseling tool for ASHAS (appointed health counselors). The app allows ASHAS to expand their knowledge of family planning through an e-learning feature, customize their counseling plan according to the needs of clients and monitor and store client activity in order to provide the best information possible. 

Overall, while there are still many challenges in improving women’s health in India, the country has proven itself to be a pioneer in technological innovation. Just as well, it’s proven that transformation is possible by putting its innovations towards women’s health awareness through mobile apps, life-saving hand-held devices, and educational platforms that can be accessed at the click of a button. 

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

 

Top Ten Facts about Period Poverty in the U.K.
Nearly 800 million women and girls menstruate daily. Period poverty encompasses the shame, guilt and cost barriers around access to sanitary products. One in 10 girls in the United Kingdom is unable to afford sanitary wear, resulting in detriment to their self-esteem, education and overall quality of life. Eliminating period poverty has often been the focus of nonprofits and the U.K.’s government. Below are the top 10 facts about period poverty in the U.K. that are important to know.

Top 10 Facts About Period Poverty in the U.K.

  1. An estimated 49 percent of girls have missed a day of school due to their periods. One in five girls surveyed in a 2019 study reported being a victim of bullying and teasing because of their periods. Girls faced increased feelings of shame and embarrassment when on their periods or discussing their period in an academic setting. This resulted in absences from school and led female students to struggle to keep up with their schoolwork.
  2. Women in the U.K. spend as much as 18,450 euros ($20.744 USD) due to their period across their lifetime. The total accounts for the costs of sanitary items, pain relief for cramps, new underwear and other period-related costs such as sweets or magazines. Of those interviewed, 91 percent purchase pain relief to ease the symptoms of periods on a regular basis. All of the 2,134 women surveyed responded that feminine hygiene products should cost less money, and some added that the government should remove its tax on those products.
  3. Free Periods is a campaign supplying low-income girls with menstrual products. Amika George, a 19-year-old student studying at Cambridge University, founded Free Periods. George called on the U.K. government to assure sanitary products are widely available in educational settings. The campaign also held a protest in London to bring attention to the ongoing issue.
  4. Plan International UK found that 10 percent of girls are unable to afford sanitary products. The cost of sanitary products has led 14 percent of girls to borrow sanitary products from friends, 12 percent to improvise sanitary products and 19 percent to change to less suitable products.
  5. Bloody Good Period, created by Gabby Edlin in 2018, supplies 25 asylum seeker centers in the U.K. with a flow of menstrual products. The growing initiative aspires to supply more food banks and centers in its mission to end period poverty.
  6. Girls throughout the U.K. not only miss school but often improvise sanitary products to use during their period. Girls have shared their stories of wrapping a sock around their underwear to control the bleeding. Others have wrapped rolls of tissues or newspapers in order to prevent leakage through their uniforms.
  7. In 2018, the Scottish government rolled out a plan to provide free sanitary products to women unable to afford them. Projections determine that it will reach approximately 18,800 low-income women and girls in an attempt to combat period poverty.
  8. The Gift Wellness Foundation provides non-toxic sanitary pads to women in crisis throughout the U.K. The Foundation relies on donations and the generosity of local community businesses. Donated sanitary products contain all-natural ingredients to ensure they are free of harmful chemicals.
  9. As of 2017, an estimated 68,000 women lived on the streets in temporary housing or shelters. These women have to make decisions that often leave them without sanitary products due to their financial situation. Each year, shelters get an allowance for condoms but not for sanitary products.
  10. Three individuals who met as interns at a London advertising agency founded #TheHomelessPeriod. Inspired to minimize the hidden side of an inequality, #TheHomelessPeriod aims to have tampons and towels available in homeless shelters through donations, crowdfunding and fundraising.

The top 10 facts about period poverty in the U.K. show the frequent inaccessibility of sanitary products to girls and women throughout the nation. While the Scottish government leads the way in the efforts to end period poverty, other governments have yet to replicate its actions. Individuals within the U.K. have taken it upon themselves to create campaigns to combat the hidden inequality and have seen success in their efforts.

– Gwen Schemm
Photo: Unsplash

Microlife CRADLE VSA Saves MothersRoughly 800 women die every day as a result of obstetric hemorrhaging, sepsis and pregnancy-related hypertension. The majority of these deaths occur in low-income areas that do not have the necessary tools to check a mother’s blood pressure and heart rate during or after childbirth.

In response, Professor Andrew Shennan and the CRADLE research team at King’s College London developed the CRADLE Microlife Vital Signs Alert (CRADLE VSA). The device features a “traffic light” early warning system that uses the traditional red, yellow and green colored lights. The user-friendly system indicates when a patient has pre-eclampsia or sepsis, even if the user has not undergone formal training.

CRADLE VSA relies on Shock Index, “the most reliable predictor of serious maternal adverse outcome. Appropriate thresholds for shock index were therefore incorporated into the traffic light algorithm, together with universally understood hypertensive thresholds, to trigger the coloured lights.” Several research studies have investigated the benefits of CRADLE VSA devices.

2013

A CRADLE research team found that over 90 percent of health clinics in a rural district of Tanzania lacked blood pressure devices. Often, the ones they did have were broken. The team provided 19 CRADLE VSA devices, containing tally counters to monitor use, to these clinics.

The CRADLE researchers conducted preintervention and postintervention studies over 12 months in three rural hospitals in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. During the three-month preintervention phase, pregnant women who went to the hospital at twenty weeks gestation or more had their blood pressure measured twice with the validated CRADLE prototype device. The three-month intervention phase resulted in twenty rural and semirural peripheral antenatal clinics receiving one to two CRADLE prototype devices. They also received training sessions, instructions and a guide to referring based on blood pressure readings.

The researchers analyzed readings from 1,241 women (694 from the preintervention phase and 547 from postintervention). They discovered a link between the use of the device in these rural clinics and improved antenatal surveillance of blood pressure. They found a decrease in the proportion of women who never had their blood pressure measured in pregnancy from 25.1 percent to 16.9 percent.

April 2016

Researchers held a 20-month trial to determine the device’s efficiency. Over this time, new healthcare sites received the CRADLE VSA device every two months until 10 sites had the device. The goal of the trial was to determine the device’s ability to detect obstetric hemorrhaging, sepsis and hypertension and help providers reduce the number of deaths occurring during childbirth. In June 2016, researchers implemented the device in 10 low-income countries including Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Haiti.

June 2018

Studies showed that clinics in twelve countries across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean were using over 6,700 CRADLE VSA devices. A cluster randomized controlled trial in Mozambique, India and Pakistan used a prototype of the device in the intervention phase of pre-eclampsia. The trial enrolled a total of 75,532 pregnant women.

The CRADLE VSA saves lives by foreseeing the early diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. For many women, these health risks may have otherwise gone unnoticed. This innovation is contributing to the prevention of maternal deaths. This could help the world meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3, “to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70,000 per 100,000 live births by 2030.”

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Upsplash

treating obstetric fistula
Obstetric fistula is a condition in which there is an abnormal opening in a woman’s birth canal due to prolonged, obstructed labor. When left untreated, obstetric fistula leads to skin infections, kidney disorders, incontinence and death of the child, and is responsible for around 6 percent of all maternal deaths.

This ailment is highly preventable and treatable, yet there are an estimated two million women living with it untreated in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. An additional 50,000 to 100,000 women are diagnosed each year. These women are predominately underprivileged, poor and young.

Operation Fistula Raises Awareness of the Necessity of Treating Obstetric Fistula

Operation Fistula is one of the few organizations that has collected data on the condition. It has measured the burden on life that not treating obstetric fistula has had and compared that weight to that of other debilitating diseases. The organization found that living with obstetric fistula is ranked just below terminal cancer.

In developed countries, obstetric fistula is practically non-existent because women have access to the education and medical services that assure a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, these care services are not readily available to women in poverty-stricken areas.

Even with the establishment of care centers in the most prominently affected areas, the lack of attention that obstetric fistula receives is incredible. Because the condition is nearly unheard of in Europe and the U.S., there is limited global awareness and therefore very little capitalization. In fact, treating obstetric fistula receives less than1 percent of annual global health funding even though it is relatively inexpensive to care for.

Global Efforts Bring Treatments to Women in Need

To counter the mass neglect, Operation Fistula works to provide women with timely and high-quality treatment. It also plans to eliminate fistula altogether by 2045. The organization’s approach is data-centric and focuses on performance-based funding to surgeons who have successfully treated patients. This simple solution yielded four times the target amount of patient treatments between 2012 and 2014.

In addition, USAID’s Health Service Delivery project is working to make the proper medical services available by establishing treatment centers at multiple hospitals in Guinea, where obstetric fistula is extremely prevalent. The treatment centers allow women to undergo the reconstructive surgeries necessary for recovery.

Operation Fistula’s most recent effort in continuing its 2045 eradication plan is working with the government of Madagascar and the United Nations Population Fund to wipe out fistula in every region of the country.

Operation Fistula concentrates on the patient first and foremost. With its performance-based funding, Operation Fistula makes sure that each patient gets the best possible treatment rather than focusing solely on the number of patients treated. Through their endeavors, every woman that Operation Fistula has treated so far has gained back, on average, almost 11 years of healthy life.

While advancements in the global treatment of women with obstetric fistula have been made, there is still a need for prevention. Health professionals in affected areas are being trained continuously and efficiently in order to prevent and manage obstetric fistula, but the most basic method of prevention is through awareness.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

tools to prevent cervical cancerCervical cancer continues to be a big problem for developing countries. More than eight out of ten cervical cancer deaths will happen in developing countries, in spite of the fact that the tools to prevent cervical cancer are available now.

How Countries are Addressing the Issue

In May 2018 in Geneva, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance “welcomed the call” issued by the World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for coordinated action against cervical cancer. The first steps on the path to eliminating cervical cancer are sustainable disease control through significant investments and holistic health systems.

Currently, cervical cancer is projected to overtake childbirth as the leading cause of death among women, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Around the world, 266,000 women and girls die each year as a result of cervical cancer. By 2030, that number could increase to more than 380,000.

Eight Gavi-supported countries have launched the vaccine nationally with 30 countries implementing a demonstration program. Ethiopia and Senegal begin nationwide vaccination in 2018. These countries understand that the tools to prevent cervical cancer are available now.

Battling Cervical Cancer in Developing Countries

Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, with 80 percent of cases happening in the developing world. It is the leading cause of death among women in developing countries, where it causes about 190,000 deaths each year. Cervical cancer risk is highest in Central America, sub-Saharan Africa and Melanesia.

A lack of effective screening programs used to detect and lead to treatment of pre-cancerous conditions is the major reason for the much higher cervical cancer occurrence in developing countries. Roughly about five percent of women in developing countries have been screened for cervical dysplasia, compared to 40 to 50 percent of women in developed countries.

Of the total number of cases of cervical cancer worldwide, 99 percent were estimated to contain HPV DNA. HPV virus infects the cells of the cervix and slowly causes pre-cancerous cellular changes (dysplasia) that progress. Women are generally at the highest risk of HPV infection in their teens, 20s or 30s. It can take as long as 20 years after the initial HPV infection for cancer to develop.

Using the Proper Tools to Prevent Cervical Cancer

In many developing countries, treatment options are limited. Cervical lesions are often treated with aggressive approaches like cone biopsies or hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) rather than with appropriate outpatient approaches.

Simple outpatient procedures should be used instead to destroy or remove pre-cancerous tissue. A common outpatient method is cryotherapy; another is a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP). LEEP does involve more equipment and supplies, but it removes diseased tissue while at the same time providing a specimen for analysis, reducing the possibility of overlooking invasive cancer.

The keys to curing cervical cancer and reducing HPV infections are education, screening and access to vaccines. What is required is the removal of barriers preventing women and girls from accessing the necessary healthcare. From vaccination campaigns to self-administered screenings, many countries are already on the right path to helping stop unnecessary deaths from cervical cancer. The tools to prevent cervical cancer are available now, and women in developing nations have a right to access those tools.

– Gustavo Lomas
Photo: Flickr

The Marshall Islands are located in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean, with a land area of just 181 square kilometers and a population of just over 74,000. While some organizations have promoted women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands since its independence in 1986, the progress of legal rights for girls and women has not been significant.

For the past 30 years, the Marshall Islands has had few female senators. In the country’s 2015 elections, three women won seats, taking up 9 percent of the total 33 members in parliament. In January 2016, Hilda Heine won the presidential election to become the first female president of the Marshall Islands.

Though the nation did ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2006, the Marshall Islands has no current legislation on any issues related to domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual harassment or sex tourism. Furthermore, there is no minimum sentence for sexual violence.

Due to the insufficiency of the law, violence against women in this nation is not unusual. A report by Women United Together Marshall Islands has shown that 51 percent of women experience domestic violence, while more than half of the population generally agrees that it is normal to commit violence against women in marital relationships, according to U.N. Women.

On the other hand, as a crucial metric on women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands, gender parity and equality in education has some good news. Literacy rates among male and female youth are above 98 percent at present. A 2015 national review on education in the Marshall Islands reported that girls perform better than boys on all tests except for science in grade three.

However, the gender pay gap and inequality in employment still call for more attention to women’s empowerment in the Marshall Islands. Statistics have shown that the male and female unemployment rates are, respectively, 28 percent and 37 percent. Annual wages of women are $3000 less than those of men in the same occupations. Potential discrimination in job markets frequently restrict women from earning credits or managing businesses, which affects their economic independence.

Another concern is related to women’s health and environmental issues. Due to a shortage of fruits and vegetables, more than half of women in the Marshall Islands have obesity or risk factors for related diseases. Teenage marriage, adolescent pregnancy and mortality for children under five in this nation still remain high compared to the global average, despite significant decreases in the past few decades.

Founded in 1987, a nonprofit organization named Women Union Together Marshall Islands serves as the leading voice for eradicating violence against women in the nation. Several other U.N. organizations have also dedicated efforts to promoting gender equality in the Marshall Islands.

Significant progress on women’s empowerment in Marshall Island has been achieved. Political leaders play a strong role in promoting gender equality and ending violence against women. However, further efforts to improve the status of women are still challenging and necessary.

– Xin Gao

Photo: Flickr