Health

  • Accelerating progress on Zika through better family planning

    In a statement declaring the clusters of birth defects that appear to be linked to Zika virus infection in Brazil “a public health emergency of international concern,” the World Health Organization recommends important measures for tackling this emerging infectious disease threat: improving surveillance, developing better diagnostic tests, intensifying vector control efforts and carrying out other prevention and treatment measures.

    More remarkable were calls from public health officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica for women to postpone pregnancy until more is known about the association between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a severe birth defect affecting the brains of newborns. Salvadoran health officials have even advised women to delay pregnancy until 2018, when the risk of being infected with Zika may be lower.

    The spread of Zika in the Americas adds urgency to the need to help all women — and their male partners — avoid unintended pregnancies. But, women and couples in countries affected by Zika face formidable barriers to achieving their fertility intentions, including lack of access to contraceptives and other reproductive health services, some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws and high rates of sexual violence.

    Placing the burden of protecting unborn children from the virus’ effects solely on women who have limited reproductive rights and contraceptive options is discriminatory and unsustainable. Expanding access to reproductive health services must be part of a comprehensive response to the Zika virus, and these services should be supported in ways that protect and strengthen the reproductive rights of women and girls.

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  • No pipeline, no promise: The role of contraceptive R&D at the International Conference on Family Planning

    This week, nearly 3,000 health professionals and researchers gathered in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, for the 4th International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), the world’s largest conference focused on family planning. At this and similar events, we often hear about the barriers that prevent women and men around the world from having reliable access to safe, affordable contraceptive services. “No product, no program!” “No provider, no program!” These are common refrains in the family planning community, and they speak to the importance of having both sufficient contraceptive commodities and adequately trained health care providers to ensure high-quality services for individuals who need them.

    This week at ICFP, Dr. Laneta Dorflinger, director of Contraceptive Technology Innovation at FHI 360, offered an additional perspective. “No pipeline, no promise!” she asserted during the Family Planning+Social Good event to highlight the importance of continued investment in contraceptive research and development.

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  • Want a Healthy World? Let the HIV Response Lead the Way

    Dr. Timothy Mastro

    Dr. Timothy Mastro

    World AIDS Day 2015 comes at a watershed moment in the fight for the health of people living with HIV and for the health of all the citizens of this planet. The two are intimately related: HIV has, for the last three decades, defined the landscape of ambitious, collaborative and innovative responses that marry science, rights, community-based responses and structural change. Ultimately, these responses can be leveraged to improve health everywhere, but only if we continue to make real progress in battling HIV.

    In recent years, collaborations between research teams and thousands of volunteers in clinical trials have yielded insights into how to use HIV prevention and treatment options to end the epidemic. These insights have led to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Fast-Track” approach to ending the epidemic, which sets ambitious targets for a range of interventions, including 27 million voluntary medical male circumcisions by year 2020, three million people on daily oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) annually, major reductions in violence against women, improvements of human rights and, of course, the 90-90-90 targets for 2020: 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 90 percent of all people receiving ART will have viral suppression.

    Mitchell Warren

    Mitchell Warren

    The world has gotten this far because of massive investments in the HIV response. To actually end the epidemic, though, it is imperative that we resist complacency, cutbacks in funding and a sense that, on any level, our work is done.

    Over the last 15 years, the Millennium Development Goals guided the global response to development. Health, including controlling HIV, figured prominently in these goals. In September, the members of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide policy and funding for ending poverty everywhere over the next 15 years. Health is one of 17 goals. To meet it, funders, implementers and country governments will need to be smarter with investments in HIV/AIDS. This means working side by side with people living with and most affected by HIV to develop rights-based approaches and efficient and community-supported service delivery models. And, it means thinking beyond any single health issue and toward integrated approaches that both fight HIV and contribute to ending poverty, hunger and inequality.

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  • Five ways to make universal access to family planning a reality

    Young woman smiling

    Photo: Jim Daniels/FHI 360

    World leaders recently ratified the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which set 169 ambitious targets to be achieved by 2030. Reaching these goals would greatly improve the lives of people worldwide. Women and girls have much to gain, especially because two of the targets call for ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning.

    Given the contributions that family planning can make to nearly all 17 of the goals, we think that universal access to family planning could be a Sustainable Development Goal of its own. Still, the global community has taken a big step in the right direction.

    Now, how can we ensure that universal access to family planning becomes a reality? Here are five ways.

    1. Bring new and lower-cost contraceptive methods to market.

    More than 225 million women in developing countries want to avoid or delay pregnancy but are not using an effective method of family planning. For many of these women, the currently available products do not meet their needs and preferences.

    Some popular methods in the United States, such as the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS), remain largely unavailable to women in developing countries because of cost. The introduction of more affordable products, such as the new LNG-IUS from Medicines360 and Sino-implant (II), can be game changing for diversifying the method mix accessible to women.

    Researchers are also developing novel methods of long-acting, highly effective contraception, such as a biodegradable implant and a longer-acting injectable.

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  • Beyond the health benefits, what does family planning have to do with the SDGs?

    A version of this post originally appeared on K4Health. Reposted with permission.

    The international community is abuzz with excitement about the new global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Officially being launched this month, the aims laid out are more ambitious and all encompassing than ever before. As such, they’ve generated an expectedly broad, diverse and loud chorus of suggestions for their implementation. Everyone seems on the hunt for the best new idea or technology to carry the agenda forward. Yet, after decades of work and untold millions of dollars in investments in research and ideas, surely we must know something useful today that could be put to good use? Perhaps while smartly pursuing innovations that keep pace with our changing world, we can also put some real investment behind some of even the simplest things that we already know to be true and which might just need a little more traction before we can finally benefit from their full potential impact.

    For example, right now we have a tool available to us that spans almost every SDG. It’s a relatively inexpensive solution that can simultaneously improve global outcomes in education, health and wealth. It can help preserve our environment and ensure food security for people around the world. You may be wondering why you have not heard of this amazing tool, but it’s far from new. Drumroll … it’s fully meeting the global demand for contraception. That’s right — sound evidence from around the world tells us several things.

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  • Srey Sros: Addressing the needs of transgender populations in Cambodia

    Srey Sros model

    A transgender model promotes the Srey Sros program. Photo: Graphic Roots Studio, Cambodia

    I have three long-haired boys, and wherever we go in Cambodia, people are confused, certain they are girls. We are constantly asked, “Why?” The answer is simple: They like having long hair. My boys’ push against traditional gender expressions is perhaps acceptable only because Cambodians have come to expect odd behavior from foreigners.

    Yet, it is a different matter for a Cambodian transgender individual with long hair. Transgender individuals in this setting face many acute challenges, and their unconventional appearance is only one of them.

    Transgender individuals in Cambodia carry a high burden of HIV. According to a study conducted by FHI 360 in select urban centers of the country, transgender individuals have an HIV prevalence of 4.15 percent (compared to 0.6 percent for the general population). Despite this striking percentage, they have historically been left out of HIV prevention and care programs. When they were included, they were incorrectly targeted as men who have sex with men. This means that there were no distinct behavior change communications or services for this group.

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  • Youth and long-acting, reversible contraception: Confronting the myths with truth

    Youth and contraception: two words that when used together excite visceral responses throughout the world. The response is even more fraught when we consider long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) for youth. Both intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are LARCs, and the challenges for young people who wish to use them — lack of access, myths and misconceptions, provider bias and community stigma — are pervasive. We have to understand more about these challenges in order to overcome them.

    In late May 2015, FHI 360 and partners — U.S. Agency for International Development, PSI, MSI and Pathfinder International’s Evidence to Action project — sponsored a symposium, called “For Youth, a Healthy Option With LARCs” in Washington, DC. The meeting convened more than 100 experts from around the world, including program advisors and implementers, researchers, health providers, donors and advocates, as well as young people themselves. The meeting’s goal was to encourage participants to share experiences, tackle tough questions and advocate for wider access to LARCs for young women.

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  • Final results from two research studies presented at IAS 2015 yesterday demonstrated clear scientific evidence on the benefits of early initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART). Building on early results of HPTN 052 released in May 2011 that then showed a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission, the study results presented yesterday provide conclusive evidence that ART should be provided to all HIV-positive people as soon as they are diagnosed for the benefit of both themselves and their sexual partners.

    Jens Lundgren of the University of Copenhagen presented the initial results of the Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START) study, a randomized trial looking at whether starting ART in people with CD4+ cell counts above 500 cells/mm3, rather than waiting for CD4+ cell counts to drop below 350 cells/mm3, reduces the occurrence of serious morbidity and mortality. START was recently unblinded by the international Data & Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) 18 months early due to data that showed very clear benefits of immediate treatment versus delayed treatment. Previous studies and guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that ART should not be given to patients unless they had symptomatic HIV and/or CD4+ counts that were below 350 cells/mm3. The interim results from START show that ART is safe and effective for all HIV-infected persons regardless of CD4+ count.

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  • Connecting the dots: Advancing contraceptive R&D through partnerships and knowledge sharing

    To optimize opportunities to make groundbreaking advances in contraceptive research and development (R&D), the global health community must help connect the dots to facilitate new partnerships between groups that often work in silos. For example, there is the company in the United States that is developing a promising drug delivery platform but hasn’t yet considered applying the research to contraceptive products. There is the university scientist who has an idea for a new contraceptive product but is unsure whether similar investments are being made in the private sector. There is the small company based in the global South that wants to enter the international market but lacks experience registering its contraceptive products in sub-Saharan Africa.

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  • Improving adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Bangladesh through the Sustainable Development Goals

    In mid-June, we had the opportunity to attend a national consultation with members of Parliament in Bangladesh on integrating sexual and reproductive health and rights into the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The consultation was hosted by the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh with support from the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

    Bangladesh has made impressive strides toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals. It has met the gender parity goals for primary and secondary education and is on track to fulfill the tertiary education goals. Bangladesh has also met the under-five mortality-reduction rate goal and is likely to reach the goal of reducing maternal mortality.

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