USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Women

Repairing Obstetric Fistula in Nigeria

USAID-supported fistula services in Nigeria began in 2007. USAID’s Fistula Care project works with six hospitals to prevent and repair fistula and/or to train health professionals about fistula case management.

Obstetric fistula is the result of prolonged labor without prompt medical intervention, causing a hole in a woman’s birth canal which leaves her with chronic incontinence and in many cases, the loss of the baby.

Thirty-two-year-old Joy Emmanuel lived with fistula for half of her life. Long after giving up hope of a remedy, she heard on the radio that women could receive fistula surgery at the Faridat Yakubu Fistula Center, in Gusau, Nigeria. Emmanuel’s baby survived, but she was left with the serious medical condition. Women with fistula are stigmatized among their peers and by society in general.

USAID is supporting increased access to quality family planning and reproductive health services. Maternal and child health efforts focus on birth preparedness, maternity services, and obstetric fistula repairs.

The Nigerian National Strategic Framework for fistula prevention and control estimates that between 400,000 and 800,000 women are affected. Nearly half of worldwide fistula cases occur in Nigeria, with between 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year. USAID is working to address the challenge of obstetric fistula in five states in northwestern Nigeria. During the project’s first three years 2,822 women received fistula repair surgery.

African First Ladies Fellowship to Strengthen Leadership on Health and Social Ills

Today I participated in the first RAND African First Ladies Fellowship Program workshop, hosted in partnership with American University.  The fellowship program, together with Women’s Campaign International, is working to strengthen the capacity of Africa’s first ladies and their offices to address health and social problems across Africa.

Participants include chiefs of staff and other advisers to first ladies from Angola, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zambia.

Over a two-year period, first ladies and fellows will develop and implement a plan to address one of their nation’s top challenges, such as maternal and child health, women’s issues or education.

Drawing on experience with the African Leaders Malaria Alliance where 26 African Heads of State are positioning their countries to achieve universal net coverage and save millions of lives, I discussed the import policy and advocacy role first ladies can influence with focused participation. While not having statutory authority, African first ladies can raise the profile, funding and country commitment of key areas like improving the health status of women and removing barriers that could prevent women from accessing life-saving health services that are particular to women, such as assisted deliveries for her or her children and family planning for healthy timing and spacing of births.

During the four-day workshop, other presenters included Melanne Verveer, U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues; Jocelyn Frye, deputy assistant to President Obama for domestic policy and director of policy and projects for First Lady Michelle Obama; Anita McBride, chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush from 2005 to 2009 and currently executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs; and Marjorie Margolies, president and founder of Women’s Campaign International.

Full Circle in Panama

When leaders from Panama’s Ella Drua community, Carlos Gil and Isabel Carpio Chami, came all the way to the USAID office in Panama City, we could hardly contain our surprise. They had traveled here to thank us for a project we had recently completed in their community. In tow, they carried a giant hand-woven basket that took five women nearly a year to finish. The fact that they had left their quiet secluded village in the jungle to come into the bustling city truly moved us. Yet ultimately it made us realize there was something remarkably appropriate about the occasion.

Amidst the daily routines that we at USAID have all grown accustomed to, from our desks behind the mountains of work, we sometimes fail to keep in mind the most important results of our work: the benefits that the men, women, and children receive as a result of our long hours. By losing sight of this, it’s also possible to lose the driving inspiration necessary to keep doing what we do.

Community women of Ella Drua. Photo Credit: Fernando Alvarez/USAID

So what we found so striking about this unexpected visit was how it managed to bring everything back full circle. While at one time we at USAID/Panama had reached out to lend a hand to the men, women, and children of Ella Drua, they had now come here to lend a hand to us. To remind us why we do what we do. And whether or not they had intended to do so, by bringing this gift of thanks they put a strong gust of wind into our sails.

As part of a long-term program in Panama Canal Watershed— which not only ensures the wellbeing and smooth operation of the Panama Canal, but also provides the water supply for half of the country’s population— USAID/Panama administered a small grant to the people of Ella Drua to support activities to benefit the area.

The community of Ella Drua, home to an indigenous group called the Emberá-Wounnan, used the grant to support an eco/ethno-tourism project that will give enterprises an alternative to activities such as slash-and-burn agriculture that inflict harm on the watershed.

“Before, the community really didn’t have many sources of income other than small agriculture,” Emberá regional leader Carlos Gil explained in Spanish, a language he speaks in addition to his mother tongue, Emberá. “Now we can care for our local environment and at the same time provide a sustainable future for our children.”

The project also had other positive effects. We saw community women empowered by their new entrepreneurial roles, and we saw youth begin to take pride in their traditional culture. Ella Drua leaders are now planning on sharing their experiences with other communities in the Darién region, which borders Columbia, especially those in which youth are at risk of drug-trafficking.

When we were invited to come to the inauguration of the eco-lodge they had built using the USAID grant money, of course we gladly accepted.

Although it’s only a ten minute boat ride from the main road, the community of Ella Drua is a world away. We arrived at the dock and were greeted by several women wearing vibrant floral skirts, traditional tops fashioned of hundreds of threaded tiny dried seeds called Lágrimas de San Pedro (Tears of Saint Peter), and headbands adorned with hibiscus flowers.

They led us to the Tambo (central pavilion) where they performed traditional music and dances, and gave ceremonial speeches detailing historical accounts of the events that led up to this day. After several more songs, and with music still playing, they led us in a procession from the pavilion to the eco-lodge, where the inauguration ceremony began.

The ceremony is performed for all new structures to ensure that it remains sturdy and will never fall. The men play music with flutes and drums, while the women dance in single file from post to post and bless it as they circle around it.

Through the day, and over a delicious lunch of chicken and patacones (fried platanos) served in rolled up banana leaves, community members continued to thank us for our support. However, it was clear that on this particular day, it was we who were truly thankful.

Resources:

  • Watch a short clip of the inauguration of the USAID-sponsored eco/ethno-tourism project
  • Read more about this project in USAID’s FrontLines magazine

Evidence Shows Historic Breakthrough Can Save Lives

Carol is in her mid-20s and raising her young daughter on her own.  With very few economic options available to her she turned to commercial sex work when she was 21 years old. Every day she puts herself at risk of HIV, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy. Because of a USAID-funded campaign, Carol knows she needs to use condoms to protect herself but as a commercial sex worker she does not always have the negotiating power to do so.

Often at USAID we support the ABC approach- abstain, be faithful, and correct and consistent condom use. While these methods can be effective in preventing HIV transmission, often it can be difficult for women to negotiate prevention interventions. With women representing nearly 60 percent of those living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, it is imperative to find a method of prevention that can be initiated by women.

Women participating in the CAPRISA 004 trial in the CAPRISA Vulindlela Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa

Women participating in the CAPRISA 004 trial in the CAPRISA Vulindlela Clinic in KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa

For almost 25 years, USAID has been on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Our development programs have been cutting-edge, and have long put women at the center of programming. Gender, prevention of mother-to-child transmission, male circumcision, counseling and testing, nutrition, and HIV vaccine research are just some of the comprehensive array of HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment programs administered through USAID.

Progressive programs continue today with the USAID-funded clinical trial, CAPRISA 004. The trial, which took place in South Africa, provided the first evidence that use of a vaginal gel, or microbicide, containing an antiretroviral drug (ARV) known as tenofovir can prevent HIV infection in women.

Tenofovir gel is a clear, colorless, and odorless viscous gel in single-dose plastic applicators

Tenofovir gel is a clear, colorless, and odorless viscous gel in single-dose plastic applicators

In the trial, tenofovir gel administered topically before and after sexual activity provided moderate protection in women at high risk of HIV infection. At the end of the study, researchers found that the use of 1% tenofovir gel by 889 women at high risk of HIV infection in Durban, South Africa proved the method to be 39 percent effective in reducing a woman’s risk of becoming HIV infected. The gel could be a unique HIV prevention tool for women who are not able to negotiate HIV prevention methods.

The successes of CAPRISA 004 ties in with the core principles of the U.S. Government’s Global Health Initiative (GHI). USAID is committed to a women- and girl- centered approach, creating a strong partnership with countries to sustain country ownership, and focusing on learning and accountability.

Once the results are confirmed through ongoing and future studies, USAID will work at every level to ensure women are able to access this unique form of prevention. This means Carol, and other women in developing nations, will have a form of protection against HIV that they can control and initiate. This new discovery puts the power of protection against HIV transmission in the hands of the woman and can ultimately save lives.

Changing Tides

Ifikhtar Ahmed is the marketing manager of I.A. Khan Enterprises, a home-based business that produces local delicacies like tangy pickles and sohan halwa, a popular dessert, in this central Punjabi city of four million.

And while Ifikhtar’s position as a manager would be considered normal by even the most traditional in Pakistan, what makes his role unusual is that the company’s managing director is his wife, Amna.

In this socially conservative country, few women venture into the mainstream workforce and contribute to the country’s economic growth. Most Pakistani husbands will not entertain the idea of ceding authority to make decisions, business or otherwise, to their wives. (Read more here.)

This Week at USAID – June 7, 2010

Currently leading the U.S. delegation to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Board meeting in Rome, today Administrator Shah meets with the Executive Director of WFP, Deputy Director Generals of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Earl Gast will be sworn-in as the new USAID Mission Director to Afghanistan.

Several USAID officials will be speaking at the Women Deliver Conference at the Washington Convention Center. In addition, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health, Amie Batson, and the U.S. Global Malaria Coordinator, Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, will both speak at the Global Business Coalition on AIDS, TB and Malaria’s annual conference, also in Washington, DC.

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