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Latest stories from IPPF

Spotlight

A selection of stories from across the Federation

Humanitarian response team, Fiji.
Story

In pictures: Humanitarian photographers share their experiences of storytelling in the field

IPPF’s localized approach to humanitarian emergencies is led by our Member Associations' response teams and whenever possible, we deploy local photographers.
Doctor
story

| 24 June 2021

Changing mindsets through medicine and motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?” That was the question Dr. Gregory Boyce was asked by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.   However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical and administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses providing care to their clients who are living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has referred many clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, and especially clients from the LGBTI+ community.   Providing specialist care and support  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.   “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.”  Making HIV a non-issue  Dr Boyce has been committed to providing treatment and care to clients living with HIV for over 20 years. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centres were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible.   “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.    Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTI+ community.   “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours.”   He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the LGBTI+ community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for treatment and care. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.    

Doctor
story

| 27 May 2022

Changing mindsets through medicine and motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?” That was the question Dr. Gregory Boyce was asked by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.   However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical and administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses providing care to their clients who are living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has referred many clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, and especially clients from the LGBTI+ community.   Providing specialist care and support  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.   “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.”  Making HIV a non-issue  Dr Boyce has been committed to providing treatment and care to clients living with HIV for over 20 years. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centres were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible.   “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.    Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTI+ community.   “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours.”   He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the LGBTI+ community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for treatment and care. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.    

Healthcare worker
story

| 24 June 2021

Ensuring care for Trinidad and Tobago's LGBTI+ community

Public perceptions, a lack of education, and government policies contribute to the barriers and challenges to achieving equality for all. In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, this is especially acute for certain key populations, including the LGBTI+ community.  For Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTI+ community.    “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTI+ community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said.  Overcoming prejudice and stigma   That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTI+ community on the types of healthcare available. Stigma surrounding the community forced many to stay hidden and avoid seeking care. Even if a member of the LGBTI+ community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public health centre, because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.    “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a health centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are male and female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring less attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.   The importance of access to HIV treatment and care Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat the LGBTI+ community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers to housing and employment, which often means earning a livelihood through sex work. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTI+ community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.   “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they [their HIV viral load] are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability.”    Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed, and they are living healthy lives. The team works hard to ensure clients living with HIV enrol in the FPATT Programme, which supports the importance of adhering to consistent treatment, healthy eating, and rest. As well as testing, the Programme offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against STIs and both group and one-to-one sessions to anyone who needs it.  Advocating for support  FPATT has, for many years, advocated for the sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTI+ community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma.   FPATT is poised to become a full-service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. FPATT’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against persons living with HIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.    

Healthcare worker
story

| 27 May 2022

Ensuring care for Trinidad and Tobago's LGBTI+ community

Public perceptions, a lack of education, and government policies contribute to the barriers and challenges to achieving equality for all. In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, this is especially acute for certain key populations, including the LGBTI+ community.  For Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTI+ community.    “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTI+ community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said.  Overcoming prejudice and stigma   That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTI+ community on the types of healthcare available. Stigma surrounding the community forced many to stay hidden and avoid seeking care. Even if a member of the LGBTI+ community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public health centre, because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.    “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a health centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are male and female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring less attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.   The importance of access to HIV treatment and care Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat the LGBTI+ community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers to housing and employment, which often means earning a livelihood through sex work. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTI+ community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.   “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they [their HIV viral load] are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability.”    Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed, and they are living healthy lives. The team works hard to ensure clients living with HIV enrol in the FPATT Programme, which supports the importance of adhering to consistent treatment, healthy eating, and rest. As well as testing, the Programme offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against STIs and both group and one-to-one sessions to anyone who needs it.  Advocating for support  FPATT has, for many years, advocated for the sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTI+ community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma.   FPATT is poised to become a full-service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. FPATT’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against persons living with HIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.    

A midwife on the phone
story

| 08 January 2021

"We see cases of early pregnancy from 14 years old – occasionally they are younger"

My name is Mariame Doumbia, I am a midwife with the Association Malienne pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Famille (AMPPF), providing family planning and sexual health services to Malians in and around the capital, Bamako. I have worked with AMPPF for almost six years in total, but there was a break two years ago when American funding stopped due to the Global Gag Rule. I was able to come back to work with Canadian funding for the project SheDecides, and they have paid my salary for the last two years. I work at fixed and mobile clinics in Bamako. In the neighbourhood of Kalabancoro, which is on the outskirts of the capital, I receive clients at the clinic who would not be able to afford travel to somewhere farther away. It’s a poor neighbourhood. Providing the correct information The women come with their ideas about sex, sometimes with lots of rumours, but we go through it all with them to explain what sexual health is and how to maintain it. We clarify things for them. More and more they come with their mothers, or their boyfriends or husbands. The youngest ones come to ask about their periods and how they can count their menstrual cycle. Then they start to ask about sex. These days the price of sanitary pads is going down, so they are using bits of fabric less often, which is what I used to see.  Seeing the impact of our work  We see cases of early pregnancy here in Kalabancoro, but the numbers are definitely going down. Most are from 14 years old upwards, though occasionally they are younger. SheDecides has brought so much to this clinic, starting with the fact that before the project’s arrival there was no one here at all for a prolonged period of time. Now the community has the right to information and I try my best to answer all their questions.

A midwife on the phone
story

| 27 May 2022

"We see cases of early pregnancy from 14 years old – occasionally they are younger"

My name is Mariame Doumbia, I am a midwife with the Association Malienne pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Famille (AMPPF), providing family planning and sexual health services to Malians in and around the capital, Bamako. I have worked with AMPPF for almost six years in total, but there was a break two years ago when American funding stopped due to the Global Gag Rule. I was able to come back to work with Canadian funding for the project SheDecides, and they have paid my salary for the last two years. I work at fixed and mobile clinics in Bamako. In the neighbourhood of Kalabancoro, which is on the outskirts of the capital, I receive clients at the clinic who would not be able to afford travel to somewhere farther away. It’s a poor neighbourhood. Providing the correct information The women come with their ideas about sex, sometimes with lots of rumours, but we go through it all with them to explain what sexual health is and how to maintain it. We clarify things for them. More and more they come with their mothers, or their boyfriends or husbands. The youngest ones come to ask about their periods and how they can count their menstrual cycle. Then they start to ask about sex. These days the price of sanitary pads is going down, so they are using bits of fabric less often, which is what I used to see.  Seeing the impact of our work  We see cases of early pregnancy here in Kalabancoro, but the numbers are definitely going down. Most are from 14 years old upwards, though occasionally they are younger. SheDecides has brought so much to this clinic, starting with the fact that before the project’s arrival there was no one here at all for a prolonged period of time. Now the community has the right to information and I try my best to answer all their questions.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 08 January 2021

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 27 May 2022

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Midwife Rewda Kedir examines a newborn baby and mother in a health center outside of Jimma, Ethiopia
story

| 16 July 2020

"Before, there was no safe abortion"

Rewda Kedir works as a midwife in a rural area of the Oromia region in southwest Ethiopia. Only 14% of married women are using any method of contraception here.  The government hospital Rewda works in is supported to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare, which includes providing free contraceptives and comprehensive abortion care. In January 2017, the maternal healthcare clinic faced shortages of contraceptives after the US administration reactivated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which does not allow any funding to go to organizations associated with providing abortion care. Fortunately in this case, the shortages only lasted a month due to the government of the Netherlands stepping in and matching lost funding. “Before, we had a shortage of contraceptive pills and emergency contraceptives. We would have to give people prescriptions and they would go to private clinics and where they had to pay," Rewda tells us. "When I first came to this clinic, there was a real shortage of people trained in family planning. I was the only one. Now there are many people trained on family planning, and when I’m not here, people can help." "There used to be a shortage of choice and alternatives, and now there are many. And the implant procedures are better because there are newer products that are much smaller so putting them in is less invasive.” Opening a dialogue on contraception  The hospital has been providing medical abortions for six years. “Before, there was no safe abortion," says Rewda. She explains how people would go to 'traditional' healers and then come to the clinic with complications like sepsis, bleeding, anaemia and toxic shock. If they had complications or infections above nine weeks, Rewda and her colleagues would send them to Jimma, the regional capital. "Before, it was very difficult to persuade them to use family planning, and we had to have a lot of conversations. Now, they come 45 days after delivery to speak to us about this and get their babies immunised," she explains. "They want contraceptives to space out their children. Sometimes their husbands don’t like them coming to get family planning so we have to lock their appointment cards away. Their husbands want more children and they think that women who do not keep having their children will go with other men." "More kids, more wealth" Rewda tells us that they've used family counselling to try and persuade men to reconsider their ideas about contraception, by explaining to them that continuously giving birth under unsafe circumstances can affect a woman's health and might lead to maternal death, damage the uterus and lead to long-term complications. "Here, people believe that more kids means more wealth, and religion restricts family planning services. Before, they did not have good training on family planning and abortion. Now, women that have abortions get proper care and the counseling and education has improved. There are still unsafe abortions but they have really reduced. We used to see about 40 a year and now it’s one or two." However, problems still exist. "There are some complications, like irregular bleeding from some contraceptives," Rewda says, and that "women still face conflict with their husbands over family planning and sometimes have to go to court to fight this or divorce them.”

Midwife Rewda Kedir examines a newborn baby and mother in a health center outside of Jimma, Ethiopia
story

| 27 May 2022

"Before, there was no safe abortion"

Rewda Kedir works as a midwife in a rural area of the Oromia region in southwest Ethiopia. Only 14% of married women are using any method of contraception here.  The government hospital Rewda works in is supported to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare, which includes providing free contraceptives and comprehensive abortion care. In January 2017, the maternal healthcare clinic faced shortages of contraceptives after the US administration reactivated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which does not allow any funding to go to organizations associated with providing abortion care. Fortunately in this case, the shortages only lasted a month due to the government of the Netherlands stepping in and matching lost funding. “Before, we had a shortage of contraceptive pills and emergency contraceptives. We would have to give people prescriptions and they would go to private clinics and where they had to pay," Rewda tells us. "When I first came to this clinic, there was a real shortage of people trained in family planning. I was the only one. Now there are many people trained on family planning, and when I’m not here, people can help." "There used to be a shortage of choice and alternatives, and now there are many. And the implant procedures are better because there are newer products that are much smaller so putting them in is less invasive.” Opening a dialogue on contraception  The hospital has been providing medical abortions for six years. “Before, there was no safe abortion," says Rewda. She explains how people would go to 'traditional' healers and then come to the clinic with complications like sepsis, bleeding, anaemia and toxic shock. If they had complications or infections above nine weeks, Rewda and her colleagues would send them to Jimma, the regional capital. "Before, it was very difficult to persuade them to use family planning, and we had to have a lot of conversations. Now, they come 45 days after delivery to speak to us about this and get their babies immunised," she explains. "They want contraceptives to space out their children. Sometimes their husbands don’t like them coming to get family planning so we have to lock their appointment cards away. Their husbands want more children and they think that women who do not keep having their children will go with other men." "More kids, more wealth" Rewda tells us that they've used family counselling to try and persuade men to reconsider their ideas about contraception, by explaining to them that continuously giving birth under unsafe circumstances can affect a woman's health and might lead to maternal death, damage the uterus and lead to long-term complications. "Here, people believe that more kids means more wealth, and religion restricts family planning services. Before, they did not have good training on family planning and abortion. Now, women that have abortions get proper care and the counseling and education has improved. There are still unsafe abortions but they have really reduced. We used to see about 40 a year and now it’s one or two." However, problems still exist. "There are some complications, like irregular bleeding from some contraceptives," Rewda says, and that "women still face conflict with their husbands over family planning and sometimes have to go to court to fight this or divorce them.”

Liljana
story

| 19 December 2018

"I decided to do cryotherapy. It was the best decision I have made in my life."

With three children to raise on her own, Liljana’s health was the last thing on her mind but she could no longer ignore the feeling that something was wrong. Through speaking to her friends, she learnt about the  Albanian Centre of Population and Development (ACDP) clinic. “First, I had the gynaecological visit and after that, for 1 minute, the doctor did the VIA test. The response was immediate, but positive. I was so scared. The doctor was able to calm me down by explaining everything very simply. Everything was going to be all right because this disease was 100% curable.” Liljana underwent treatment for pre-cancerous lesions for two weeks, but the results of the test were still positive. The doctor suggested cryotherapy. “I decided to do cryotherapy, which is very simple and very comfortable. It was the best decision I have made in my life. After two years, I am completely recovered. I am very grateful to the ACDP clinic, they saved my life.” What is VIA & Cryotherapy? Show more + Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) is a process of screening and examining the cervix. Pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix will turn white when the acid is applied.  This simple procedure can be done in a clinic setting without the use of a laboratory and allows for immediate treatment of any pre-cancerous lesions with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a gynaecological treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal, pre-cancerous cervical cells. Cryotherapy is not a treatment for cervical cancer. VIA has the potential to revolutionize cervical cancer prevention efforts, particularly in low resource settings, because it eliminates the need for laboratories, transportation of specimens and provides immediate test results.   VIA needs less equipment and fewer specialists than traditional cervical cancer screening methods like Pap tests. Results from VIA are available immediately so women can be screened and treated in one single visit.  A happier & healthier life Now Liljana is having routine checks following the advice of the doctor and maintains regular contact with the clinic. “I know that whenever I need advice, I can call the doctor or the nurse and always get a response.” Liljana told all her friends about the VIA procedure and recommended many of them to the clinic in Tirana. Since her successful treatment, Liljana has noticed the relationship with her children has also improved. “My 15 years daughter says that now I smile more than before. She has noticed that before the test I was sad, because I was thinking bad things about my life. This experience has helped me also to talk openly with my daughter about the reproductive and sexual life and teach her to take care of herself. The other two are boys, 13 and 10 years old, but I promise I will talk to them about the importance of having a healthy reproductive and sexual life.”

Liljana
story

| 27 May 2022

"I decided to do cryotherapy. It was the best decision I have made in my life."

With three children to raise on her own, Liljana’s health was the last thing on her mind but she could no longer ignore the feeling that something was wrong. Through speaking to her friends, she learnt about the  Albanian Centre of Population and Development (ACDP) clinic. “First, I had the gynaecological visit and after that, for 1 minute, the doctor did the VIA test. The response was immediate, but positive. I was so scared. The doctor was able to calm me down by explaining everything very simply. Everything was going to be all right because this disease was 100% curable.” Liljana underwent treatment for pre-cancerous lesions for two weeks, but the results of the test were still positive. The doctor suggested cryotherapy. “I decided to do cryotherapy, which is very simple and very comfortable. It was the best decision I have made in my life. After two years, I am completely recovered. I am very grateful to the ACDP clinic, they saved my life.” What is VIA & Cryotherapy? Show more + Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) is a process of screening and examining the cervix. Pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix will turn white when the acid is applied.  This simple procedure can be done in a clinic setting without the use of a laboratory and allows for immediate treatment of any pre-cancerous lesions with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a gynaecological treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal, pre-cancerous cervical cells. Cryotherapy is not a treatment for cervical cancer. VIA has the potential to revolutionize cervical cancer prevention efforts, particularly in low resource settings, because it eliminates the need for laboratories, transportation of specimens and provides immediate test results.   VIA needs less equipment and fewer specialists than traditional cervical cancer screening methods like Pap tests. Results from VIA are available immediately so women can be screened and treated in one single visit.  A happier & healthier life Now Liljana is having routine checks following the advice of the doctor and maintains regular contact with the clinic. “I know that whenever I need advice, I can call the doctor or the nurse and always get a response.” Liljana told all her friends about the VIA procedure and recommended many of them to the clinic in Tirana. Since her successful treatment, Liljana has noticed the relationship with her children has also improved. “My 15 years daughter says that now I smile more than before. She has noticed that before the test I was sad, because I was thinking bad things about my life. This experience has helped me also to talk openly with my daughter about the reproductive and sexual life and teach her to take care of herself. The other two are boys, 13 and 10 years old, but I promise I will talk to them about the importance of having a healthy reproductive and sexual life.”

Doctor
story

| 24 June 2021

Changing mindsets through medicine and motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?” That was the question Dr. Gregory Boyce was asked by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.   However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical and administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses providing care to their clients who are living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has referred many clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, and especially clients from the LGBTI+ community.   Providing specialist care and support  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.   “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.”  Making HIV a non-issue  Dr Boyce has been committed to providing treatment and care to clients living with HIV for over 20 years. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centres were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible.   “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.    Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTI+ community.   “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours.”   He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the LGBTI+ community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for treatment and care. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.    

Doctor
story

| 27 May 2022

Changing mindsets through medicine and motivation

“You work with people who have HIV? Why?” That was the question Dr. Gregory Boyce was asked by the young intern that stood before him. He had come to the hospital ward to visit a client who was known to be living with HIV. He approached the intern at the desk and gave his name and designation. The intern looked at him, confused and somewhat amused and asked the question that he has neither forgotten, nor understood to this day.   However, this young intern’s question comes from a mindset that Dr. Boyce is working fervently to change. As Deputy Director of the Medical Research Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (MRF), Dr. Boyce provides clinical and administrative support to a team of doctors and nurses providing care to their clients who are living with HIV. Due to MRF’s long-standing work in HIV research and healthcare, the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), has referred many clients to Dr. Boyce and his team, and especially clients from the LGBTI+ community.   Providing specialist care and support  “Persons coming to us from key populations, have very layered needs. They are facing unique challenges in addition to living with the virus. There is still that myth that being HIV positive means that you will positively die. Added to that, there’s the discrimination that the community faces in every aspect of their lives on a daily basis. As a staff, we’ve had to seek special training to guide the way we interact with these clients so that we can meet all their needs appropriately and sensitively,” explains Dr. Boyce.   “Apart from medical interventions which are needed to ensure that our clients continue to live healthy lives, we focus heavily on their psychosocial needs. It’s easy to think that because a client is physically healthy that they are also emotionally healthy. We have clients that won’t leave abusive relationships because they think no one else would accept them. We have other clients that are dealing with long-term medication fatigue because they have been taking pills for over 10 years. With that sometimes comes depression and other drug addictions, which is why it’s necessary for us to maintain open and honest relationships to address those accompanying issues.”  Making HIV a non-issue  Dr Boyce has been committed to providing treatment and care to clients living with HIV for over 20 years. He had worked at the Port of Spain General Hospital after graduating, during which time, medicine for persons living with HIV was expensive and out of reach for many. A few years later, through government programmes, medicine became more affordable, and treatment centres were opening up across the island. However, Dr. Boyce realized that the mortality rate had not changed by much. He wondered why people were still dying from a virus when medicine was easily accessible.   “That first conversation – giving a client the news that they’ve tested positive – is very important. We get to show them that HIV is not an impediment. Most times, with the wrong information, they start to draw up a list of things that they can no longer do, like go after a promotion or start a family. Then they go through life shrunken and unrecognizable, not the person they once were. So to answer that intern’s question about why I work with persons living with HIV: I want to make HIV a non-issue,” he states.    Dr. Boyce hopes to see HIV disclosure become as acceptable as other chronic illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, where an entire family would work towards caring for the affected person, instead of alienating them. He also hopes to see more inclusion and tolerance towards persons living with HIV, especially those within the LGBTI+ community.   “Until a gay or transgender person can walk the streets freely and not be jeered at by passers-by, we still have a long way to go. Until they can access treatment at any public facility without fear or judgment, we have a lot of work to do. It would take a lot of education to change the stigma and discrimination but there is absolutely no reason why another person’s life should be miserable because their expression is different to ours.”   He commends the work of FPATT in upholding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the LGBTI+ community, through ensuring that they have a safe and non-judgmental environment for treatment and care. He says that the Medical Research Foundation values the great relationship that the two organizations have had for years, even as FPATT works towards becoming its own full-service antiretroviral treatment site for persons living with HIV.    

Healthcare worker
story

| 24 June 2021

Ensuring care for Trinidad and Tobago's LGBTI+ community

Public perceptions, a lack of education, and government policies contribute to the barriers and challenges to achieving equality for all. In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, this is especially acute for certain key populations, including the LGBTI+ community.  For Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTI+ community.    “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTI+ community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said.  Overcoming prejudice and stigma   That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTI+ community on the types of healthcare available. Stigma surrounding the community forced many to stay hidden and avoid seeking care. Even if a member of the LGBTI+ community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public health centre, because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.    “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a health centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are male and female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring less attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.   The importance of access to HIV treatment and care Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat the LGBTI+ community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers to housing and employment, which often means earning a livelihood through sex work. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTI+ community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.   “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they [their HIV viral load] are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability.”    Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed, and they are living healthy lives. The team works hard to ensure clients living with HIV enrol in the FPATT Programme, which supports the importance of adhering to consistent treatment, healthy eating, and rest. As well as testing, the Programme offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against STIs and both group and one-to-one sessions to anyone who needs it.  Advocating for support  FPATT has, for many years, advocated for the sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTI+ community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma.   FPATT is poised to become a full-service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. FPATT’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against persons living with HIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.    

Healthcare worker
story

| 27 May 2022

Ensuring care for Trinidad and Tobago's LGBTI+ community

Public perceptions, a lack of education, and government policies contribute to the barriers and challenges to achieving equality for all. In a country as diverse as Trinidad and Tobago, this is especially acute for certain key populations, including the LGBTI+ community.  For Brandy Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), the struggle is both real and personal. In 1999, Brandy began her transition to womanhood and since 2006 has been working with FPATT in their HIV programme for the LGBTI+ community.    “Back in 2004, very little was said about HIV infection, transmission and prevention. In fact, if there was any information, it was misconstrued and meant to stigmatize the LGBTI+ community. I was fairly new to the transgender community, so I made it a mission to research and find out the truths behind HIV and how I could protect myself. I then felt like I had to share what I found with others who were searching as well,” she said.  Overcoming prejudice and stigma   That’s when FPATT asked Brandy to join their team in educating the LGBTI+ community on the types of healthcare available. Stigma surrounding the community forced many to stay hidden and avoid seeking care. Even if a member of the LGBTI+ community wanted to test for their HIV status, they would never dare to go into a public health centre, because of the fear of being judged by the healthcare professionals.    “It’s a simple case of this. When a transgender or non-binary person walks into a health centre or hospital, and the triage nurse has to fill in a form that asks for gender, the only two options there are male and female. So usually, the non-binary person knows that if they want to access that healthcare, free of judgement, they would have to dress as the gender that would bring less attention. At the end of the day, the healthcare provider does not receive accurate information about the client, and the client doesn’t receive the scope of assessment and treatment that may be necessary. So part of what I do, is to simply accompany the client to the appointment so that it’s a less stressful experience and they don’t feel like they are alone,” says Brandy.   The importance of access to HIV treatment and care Apart from a great lack of healthcare professionals that are willing to treat the LGBTI+ community non-judgementally, the community also lacks social support. Most of the members of the community face barriers to housing and employment, which often means earning a livelihood through sex work. Over 95% of skilled and employable persons within the LGBTI+ community have turned to sex work because they are constantly denied employment within other industries.   “When I began my transition, I was fortunate to have the support of my family; they understood my heart and my need to be my authentic self. Not everyone has that support and so some either migrate or are left homeless because of the fact. Having to work within the sex industry means that they are now at greater risk for HIV or other STIs. My job as an Educator and Navigator is to promote condom use and ensure that they make use of FPATT’s regular HIV testing. If they do test positive, we then have that conversation about U=U, which means that if they [their HIV viral load] are undetectable, they will be untransferable, and then get them to that place of undetectability.”    Brandy explains that being undetectable means that the client’s viral load is suppressed, and they are living healthy lives. The team works hard to ensure clients living with HIV enrol in the FPATT Programme, which supports the importance of adhering to consistent treatment, healthy eating, and rest. As well as testing, the Programme offers sexual and reproductive health education on prevention against STIs and both group and one-to-one sessions to anyone who needs it.  Advocating for support  FPATT has, for many years, advocated for the sexual and reproductive rights of the LGBTI+ community, ensuring that it remains a safe place for HIV testing and counselling. It holds a vision of a world where gender or sexuality are no longer a source of inequality or stigma.   FPATT is poised to become a full-service HIV treatment site, offering antiretroviral treatment as well as psychosocial services for persons affected by HIV. FPATT’s goal is to stop discrimination and stigma against persons living with HIV and ultimately end the spread of HIV within Trinidad and Tobago by 2030.    

A midwife on the phone
story

| 08 January 2021

"We see cases of early pregnancy from 14 years old – occasionally they are younger"

My name is Mariame Doumbia, I am a midwife with the Association Malienne pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Famille (AMPPF), providing family planning and sexual health services to Malians in and around the capital, Bamako. I have worked with AMPPF for almost six years in total, but there was a break two years ago when American funding stopped due to the Global Gag Rule. I was able to come back to work with Canadian funding for the project SheDecides, and they have paid my salary for the last two years. I work at fixed and mobile clinics in Bamako. In the neighbourhood of Kalabancoro, which is on the outskirts of the capital, I receive clients at the clinic who would not be able to afford travel to somewhere farther away. It’s a poor neighbourhood. Providing the correct information The women come with their ideas about sex, sometimes with lots of rumours, but we go through it all with them to explain what sexual health is and how to maintain it. We clarify things for them. More and more they come with their mothers, or their boyfriends or husbands. The youngest ones come to ask about their periods and how they can count their menstrual cycle. Then they start to ask about sex. These days the price of sanitary pads is going down, so they are using bits of fabric less often, which is what I used to see.  Seeing the impact of our work  We see cases of early pregnancy here in Kalabancoro, but the numbers are definitely going down. Most are from 14 years old upwards, though occasionally they are younger. SheDecides has brought so much to this clinic, starting with the fact that before the project’s arrival there was no one here at all for a prolonged period of time. Now the community has the right to information and I try my best to answer all their questions.

A midwife on the phone
story

| 27 May 2022

"We see cases of early pregnancy from 14 years old – occasionally they are younger"

My name is Mariame Doumbia, I am a midwife with the Association Malienne pour la Protection et la Promotion de la Famille (AMPPF), providing family planning and sexual health services to Malians in and around the capital, Bamako. I have worked with AMPPF for almost six years in total, but there was a break two years ago when American funding stopped due to the Global Gag Rule. I was able to come back to work with Canadian funding for the project SheDecides, and they have paid my salary for the last two years. I work at fixed and mobile clinics in Bamako. In the neighbourhood of Kalabancoro, which is on the outskirts of the capital, I receive clients at the clinic who would not be able to afford travel to somewhere farther away. It’s a poor neighbourhood. Providing the correct information The women come with their ideas about sex, sometimes with lots of rumours, but we go through it all with them to explain what sexual health is and how to maintain it. We clarify things for them. More and more they come with their mothers, or their boyfriends or husbands. The youngest ones come to ask about their periods and how they can count their menstrual cycle. Then they start to ask about sex. These days the price of sanitary pads is going down, so they are using bits of fabric less often, which is what I used to see.  Seeing the impact of our work  We see cases of early pregnancy here in Kalabancoro, but the numbers are definitely going down. Most are from 14 years old upwards, though occasionally they are younger. SheDecides has brought so much to this clinic, starting with the fact that before the project’s arrival there was no one here at all for a prolonged period of time. Now the community has the right to information and I try my best to answer all their questions.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 08 January 2021

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga
story

| 27 May 2022

"The movement helps girls to know their rights and their bodies"

My name is Fatoumata Yehiya Maiga. I’m 23-years-old, and I’m an IT specialist. I joined the Youth Action Movement at the end of 2018. The head of the movement in Mali is a friend of mine, and I met her before I knew she was the president. She invited me to their events and over time persuaded me to join. I watched them raising awareness about sexual and reproductive health, using sketches and speeches. I learnt a lot. Overcoming taboos I went home and talked about what I had seen and learnt with my family. In Africa, and even more so in the village where I come from in Gao, northern Mali, people don’t talk about these things. I wanted to take my sisters to the events, but every time I spoke about them my relatives would just say it was to teach girls to have sex, and that it’s taboo. That’s not what I believe. I think the movement helps girls, most of all, to know their sexual rights, their bodies, what to do and what not to do to stay healthy and safe. They don’t understand this concept. My family would say it was just a smokescreen to convince girls to get involved in something dirty.  I have had to tell my younger cousins about their periods, for example, when they came from the village to live in the city. One of my cousins was so scared, and told me she was bleeding from her vagina and didn’t know why. We talk about managing periods in the Youth Action Movement, as well as how to manage cramps and feel better. The devastating impact of FGM But there was a much more important reason for me to join the movement. My parents are educated, so me and my sisters were never cut. I learned about female genital mutilation at a conference I attended in 2016. I didn’t know that there were different types of severity and ways that girls could be cut. I hadn’t understood quite how dangerous this practice is. Then, two years ago, I lost my friend Aïssata. She got married young, at 17. She struggled to conceive until she was 23. The day she gave birth, there were complications and she died. The doctors said that the excision was botched and that’s what killed her. From that day on, I decided I needed to teach all the girls in my community about how harmful this practice is for their health. I was so horrified by the way she died. Normally, girls in Mali are cut when they are three or four years old, though for some it’s done at birth. When they are older and get pregnant, I know they face the same challenges as every woman does giving birth, but they also live with the dangerous consequences of this unhealthy practice.  The importance of talking openly  The problem lies with the families. I want us, as a movement, to talk with the parents and explain to them how they can contribute to their children’s sexual health. I wish it were no longer a taboo between parents and their girls. But if we talk in such direct terms, they only see disobedience, and say that we are encouraging promiscuity. We need to talk to teenagers because they are already parents in many cases. They are the ones who decide to go through with cutting their daughters, or not. A lot of Mali is hard to reach though. We need travelling groups to go to those isolated rural areas and talk to people about sexual health. Pregnancy is the girl’s decision, and girls have a right to be healthy, and to choose their future.

Midwife Rewda Kedir examines a newborn baby and mother in a health center outside of Jimma, Ethiopia
story

| 16 July 2020

"Before, there was no safe abortion"

Rewda Kedir works as a midwife in a rural area of the Oromia region in southwest Ethiopia. Only 14% of married women are using any method of contraception here.  The government hospital Rewda works in is supported to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare, which includes providing free contraceptives and comprehensive abortion care. In January 2017, the maternal healthcare clinic faced shortages of contraceptives after the US administration reactivated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which does not allow any funding to go to organizations associated with providing abortion care. Fortunately in this case, the shortages only lasted a month due to the government of the Netherlands stepping in and matching lost funding. “Before, we had a shortage of contraceptive pills and emergency contraceptives. We would have to give people prescriptions and they would go to private clinics and where they had to pay," Rewda tells us. "When I first came to this clinic, there was a real shortage of people trained in family planning. I was the only one. Now there are many people trained on family planning, and when I’m not here, people can help." "There used to be a shortage of choice and alternatives, and now there are many. And the implant procedures are better because there are newer products that are much smaller so putting them in is less invasive.” Opening a dialogue on contraception  The hospital has been providing medical abortions for six years. “Before, there was no safe abortion," says Rewda. She explains how people would go to 'traditional' healers and then come to the clinic with complications like sepsis, bleeding, anaemia and toxic shock. If they had complications or infections above nine weeks, Rewda and her colleagues would send them to Jimma, the regional capital. "Before, it was very difficult to persuade them to use family planning, and we had to have a lot of conversations. Now, they come 45 days after delivery to speak to us about this and get their babies immunised," she explains. "They want contraceptives to space out their children. Sometimes their husbands don’t like them coming to get family planning so we have to lock their appointment cards away. Their husbands want more children and they think that women who do not keep having their children will go with other men." "More kids, more wealth" Rewda tells us that they've used family counselling to try and persuade men to reconsider their ideas about contraception, by explaining to them that continuously giving birth under unsafe circumstances can affect a woman's health and might lead to maternal death, damage the uterus and lead to long-term complications. "Here, people believe that more kids means more wealth, and religion restricts family planning services. Before, they did not have good training on family planning and abortion. Now, women that have abortions get proper care and the counseling and education has improved. There are still unsafe abortions but they have really reduced. We used to see about 40 a year and now it’s one or two." However, problems still exist. "There are some complications, like irregular bleeding from some contraceptives," Rewda says, and that "women still face conflict with their husbands over family planning and sometimes have to go to court to fight this or divorce them.”

Midwife Rewda Kedir examines a newborn baby and mother in a health center outside of Jimma, Ethiopia
story

| 27 May 2022

"Before, there was no safe abortion"

Rewda Kedir works as a midwife in a rural area of the Oromia region in southwest Ethiopia. Only 14% of married women are using any method of contraception here.  The government hospital Rewda works in is supported to provide a full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare, which includes providing free contraceptives and comprehensive abortion care. In January 2017, the maternal healthcare clinic faced shortages of contraceptives after the US administration reactivated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, which does not allow any funding to go to organizations associated with providing abortion care. Fortunately in this case, the shortages only lasted a month due to the government of the Netherlands stepping in and matching lost funding. “Before, we had a shortage of contraceptive pills and emergency contraceptives. We would have to give people prescriptions and they would go to private clinics and where they had to pay," Rewda tells us. "When I first came to this clinic, there was a real shortage of people trained in family planning. I was the only one. Now there are many people trained on family planning, and when I’m not here, people can help." "There used to be a shortage of choice and alternatives, and now there are many. And the implant procedures are better because there are newer products that are much smaller so putting them in is less invasive.” Opening a dialogue on contraception  The hospital has been providing medical abortions for six years. “Before, there was no safe abortion," says Rewda. She explains how people would go to 'traditional' healers and then come to the clinic with complications like sepsis, bleeding, anaemia and toxic shock. If they had complications or infections above nine weeks, Rewda and her colleagues would send them to Jimma, the regional capital. "Before, it was very difficult to persuade them to use family planning, and we had to have a lot of conversations. Now, they come 45 days after delivery to speak to us about this and get their babies immunised," she explains. "They want contraceptives to space out their children. Sometimes their husbands don’t like them coming to get family planning so we have to lock their appointment cards away. Their husbands want more children and they think that women who do not keep having their children will go with other men." "More kids, more wealth" Rewda tells us that they've used family counselling to try and persuade men to reconsider their ideas about contraception, by explaining to them that continuously giving birth under unsafe circumstances can affect a woman's health and might lead to maternal death, damage the uterus and lead to long-term complications. "Here, people believe that more kids means more wealth, and religion restricts family planning services. Before, they did not have good training on family planning and abortion. Now, women that have abortions get proper care and the counseling and education has improved. There are still unsafe abortions but they have really reduced. We used to see about 40 a year and now it’s one or two." However, problems still exist. "There are some complications, like irregular bleeding from some contraceptives," Rewda says, and that "women still face conflict with their husbands over family planning and sometimes have to go to court to fight this or divorce them.”

Liljana
story

| 19 December 2018

"I decided to do cryotherapy. It was the best decision I have made in my life."

With three children to raise on her own, Liljana’s health was the last thing on her mind but she could no longer ignore the feeling that something was wrong. Through speaking to her friends, she learnt about the  Albanian Centre of Population and Development (ACDP) clinic. “First, I had the gynaecological visit and after that, for 1 minute, the doctor did the VIA test. The response was immediate, but positive. I was so scared. The doctor was able to calm me down by explaining everything very simply. Everything was going to be all right because this disease was 100% curable.” Liljana underwent treatment for pre-cancerous lesions for two weeks, but the results of the test were still positive. The doctor suggested cryotherapy. “I decided to do cryotherapy, which is very simple and very comfortable. It was the best decision I have made in my life. After two years, I am completely recovered. I am very grateful to the ACDP clinic, they saved my life.” What is VIA & Cryotherapy? Show more + Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) is a process of screening and examining the cervix. Pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix will turn white when the acid is applied.  This simple procedure can be done in a clinic setting without the use of a laboratory and allows for immediate treatment of any pre-cancerous lesions with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a gynaecological treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal, pre-cancerous cervical cells. Cryotherapy is not a treatment for cervical cancer. VIA has the potential to revolutionize cervical cancer prevention efforts, particularly in low resource settings, because it eliminates the need for laboratories, transportation of specimens and provides immediate test results.   VIA needs less equipment and fewer specialists than traditional cervical cancer screening methods like Pap tests. Results from VIA are available immediately so women can be screened and treated in one single visit.  A happier & healthier life Now Liljana is having routine checks following the advice of the doctor and maintains regular contact with the clinic. “I know that whenever I need advice, I can call the doctor or the nurse and always get a response.” Liljana told all her friends about the VIA procedure and recommended many of them to the clinic in Tirana. Since her successful treatment, Liljana has noticed the relationship with her children has also improved. “My 15 years daughter says that now I smile more than before. She has noticed that before the test I was sad, because I was thinking bad things about my life. This experience has helped me also to talk openly with my daughter about the reproductive and sexual life and teach her to take care of herself. The other two are boys, 13 and 10 years old, but I promise I will talk to them about the importance of having a healthy reproductive and sexual life.”

Liljana
story

| 27 May 2022

"I decided to do cryotherapy. It was the best decision I have made in my life."

With three children to raise on her own, Liljana’s health was the last thing on her mind but she could no longer ignore the feeling that something was wrong. Through speaking to her friends, she learnt about the  Albanian Centre of Population and Development (ACDP) clinic. “First, I had the gynaecological visit and after that, for 1 minute, the doctor did the VIA test. The response was immediate, but positive. I was so scared. The doctor was able to calm me down by explaining everything very simply. Everything was going to be all right because this disease was 100% curable.” Liljana underwent treatment for pre-cancerous lesions for two weeks, but the results of the test were still positive. The doctor suggested cryotherapy. “I decided to do cryotherapy, which is very simple and very comfortable. It was the best decision I have made in my life. After two years, I am completely recovered. I am very grateful to the ACDP clinic, they saved my life.” What is VIA & Cryotherapy? Show more + Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) is a process of screening and examining the cervix. Pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix will turn white when the acid is applied.  This simple procedure can be done in a clinic setting without the use of a laboratory and allows for immediate treatment of any pre-cancerous lesions with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a gynaecological treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal, pre-cancerous cervical cells. Cryotherapy is not a treatment for cervical cancer. VIA has the potential to revolutionize cervical cancer prevention efforts, particularly in low resource settings, because it eliminates the need for laboratories, transportation of specimens and provides immediate test results.   VIA needs less equipment and fewer specialists than traditional cervical cancer screening methods like Pap tests. Results from VIA are available immediately so women can be screened and treated in one single visit.  A happier & healthier life Now Liljana is having routine checks following the advice of the doctor and maintains regular contact with the clinic. “I know that whenever I need advice, I can call the doctor or the nurse and always get a response.” Liljana told all her friends about the VIA procedure and recommended many of them to the clinic in Tirana. Since her successful treatment, Liljana has noticed the relationship with her children has also improved. “My 15 years daughter says that now I smile more than before. She has noticed that before the test I was sad, because I was thinking bad things about my life. This experience has helped me also to talk openly with my daughter about the reproductive and sexual life and teach her to take care of herself. The other two are boys, 13 and 10 years old, but I promise I will talk to them about the importance of having a healthy reproductive and sexual life.”