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Public health professors assist with family planning project in underdeveloped countries

Hatchet File Photo
Researchers in the Milken School Institute of Public Health are partnering with the children’s advocacy group Save the Children to increase awareness about family planning in two underdeveloped countries.

Three professors in the Milken Institute School of Public Health are working to develop family planning techniques for adolescent women in Bangladesh and Tanzania.

Three global health professors – Sarah Baird, Wolfgang Munar and Jennifer Muz – will partner with nonprofit children’s advocacy group Save the Children on the CONNECT project, which aims to increase access to family planning resources in developing countries. Public health experts said educating families about family planning gives women more control over their reproductive health, which improves the health of mothers and children and allows women to freely pursue work and education.

Sarah Baird, an associate professor of global health, said Save the Children and the public health school representatives chose to focus family planning intervention efforts on Bangladesh and Tanzania because the two countries face high adolescent fertility rates.

About 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 years old and 2.5 million girls less than 16 years old in developing regions give birth each year, according to the World Health Organization website. In Bangladesh, the adolescent fertility rate is about 83 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 years old and 118 births per 1,000 adolescent women in Tanzania, according to data from the World Bank.

Baird said Bangladesh and Tanzania are also “priority” countries for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization that funds the CONNECT project.

“The idea is to use existing Save the Children platforms that are working with mothers and children and add on low-cost scalable interventions to improve uptake of family planning by first-time young parents,” she said in an email.

Baird said researchers will spend the first year reviewing academic literature on family planning, speaking with local stakeholders and deciding which family planning interventions to implement in both countries.

She added that she and her colleagues will engage in “collaborative” implementation and research efforts with Save the Children and hold regular phone calls and joint workshops in the District and the focus countries.

“It will allow for improved spacing of children, which will improve the health and well-being of both the mother and the children,” Baird said.

Public health experts said increasing the accessibility and affordability of family planning resources, like contraceptives, will improve the overall health of mothers and children.

Gustavo Angeles, an associate professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said explaining contraceptive methods to parents soon after childbirth is an effective method of spacing out pregnancies. He said health care professionals should thoroughly explain birth control options to new parents still in the hospital in countries like Bangladesh and Tanzania because they generally have more limited access to health care services.

The recommended wait time between pregnancies is 18 to 24 months, according to the Mayo Clinic website. But Angeles said the length of time between births is much shorter in countries like Tanzania and Bangladesh, a trend associated with health issues like high neonatal mortality rates and malnutrition.

“Before they leave the facility and they go back home it’s important that they get a counseling session about family planning, and they might even get the methods immediately,” Angeles said.

He added that many young women cannot afford the family planning services community workers in Bangladesh and Tanzania provide. Angeles said health care officials should work to decrease the cost of family planning consultations and transportation to health care facilities so women can more easily access those services.

“You have to work on the supply factors and the demand factors, and the supply factors are related to making the services available through different channels, through health facilities and through community workers and making sure that the women who need them have access to them,” he said.

Frank Anderson, a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, said health care providers should cater the birth control options they recommend in accordance with the level of families’ access to health care services. He said health care professionals should recommend longer-term birth control devices, like IUDs, for women living in rural areas who do not have direct access to contraceptives.

“There’s a level of education both at the provider level and the patient level to know what she wants and what type of contraceptives are appropriate,” Anderson said.

Leslie Kantor, a professor at Rutgers University’s school of public health, said providing family planning tools, like birth control, to women in Tanzania and Bangladesh allows them to prioritize finishing their education and entering the workplace.

Kantor added that contraceptive devices and other family planning resources must be easily affordable and accessible to ensure as many women as possible have the opportunity to exert control over their reproductive health and wellbeing.

“When family planning becomes more available and women are able to plan their families, everybody benefits,” Kantor said. “Women have chosen over time to have fewer children, and that has been good economically for families.”

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