FEMM: Global models of access and care for rural women

Published on March 26, 2018

Thursday, March 22
Commission on the Status of Women
Anna Halpine, FEMM CEO

Your Excellency; ladies and gentlemen:

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to discuss models for excellence in healthcare for women, particularly for rural women. I would like to thank Archbishop Auza and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations for inviting us to sponsor with them this event affirming the human dignity of rural women and girls through healthcare and education fully consistent with the dignity and health of women.

At the Commission for the Status of Women, it is often said that for women to be empowered, they must be able to control their fertility, and those who say this normally mean that women and even young teenage must have access to, and use of, contraception. But the UN’s own research confirms that contraception won’t meet the needs of women who don’t want to use it for a variety of reasons: chief among them concerns about side effects, and the harm that contraceptives often do to women’s health.

Women deserve something better. Many fertility awareness methods, period tracking apps, and new programs are responding to this need. Millions of women around the world are looking for better ways to understand their body, to manage their health, and to manage their fertility. FEMM is one of these new methods, and is developing some important and innovative responses to offer women choices for their healthcare that match their needs.

FEMM develops and provides education and health care programs globally. Our commitment is in three primary areas: educational programs and development, medical research and clinical application, and technology and infrastructure investment. While each of these areas are critical in and of themselves, we believe that the power of FEMM lies in our ability to integrate the latest research and information, in order to deliver education and health care through our integrated ecosystem.

FEMM is a dynamic and innovative approach to women’s health that is at the cutting edge of research and technology. We know that ovulation is a sign of health, and we are passionate about bringing this information, care, and treatment to women around the world. To do this, we know that we have to develop new delivery systems to reach women where they are. Education, technology innovation, and medical advances can assist us in serving rural women around the world.

FEMM is uniquely positioned to bring innovations and excellence in health information and care to rural women. First, FEMM’s model focuses on informed consent. We are committed to providing health care information to women which can be done in person, online, and personalized through smart phone apps. FEMM’s app currently has over 390k users, many of whom are in Latin America and Africa. Our app has allowed us to reach and connect with women everywhere, enabling them to ask questions, send information, and receive daily, personalized information about their own health and body.

FEMM’s teacher training certification is also online, allowing us to work with and train women everywhere. Our trained FEMM teachers educate women in their communities, and also travel to rural and hard to reach areas to provide this information to women. I’ll be showing a video about some of FEMM teachers and doctors, and the work they are doing with the most vulnerable communities in rural Nigeria.

FEMM’s medical program is currently taught in-person, but we have now begun to develop online course instruction. These courses will allow us to reach medical providers around the world, but particularly those in rural areas. In this way, we can provide the most advanced science and research to health care providers everywhere, sharing information and clinical application so that they can give the best to the rural women in their care.

Rural women sometimes suffer from a lack of medical care, and an inability to link with experts and specialists as needed. We have already seen this lack of access among FEMM app users, who wish to be linked with FEMM doctors. Technology is allowing us to bridge this gap, and we are currently working to develop telemedicine that will allow us to bring this healthcare to rural women everywhere, through their smart phones and in collaboration with rural doctors and nurses.

Let’s take a look at FEMM, and the science of a woman’s body, so we can understand the critical importance of ovulation as a sign of health, and in education to understand and monitor the effects of hormones for women’s health.

[FEMM slides]

 

Our commitment to excellence includes ongoing investment in the peer-reviewed, foundational research, that develops our knowledge and capacities to serve women and girls. This past year, through collaborations with the Reproductive Health Research Institute, over six peer-reviewed articles were published in the developing area of women’s health – particularly adolescent health – and the impact of steroids (hormones), on the brain. This new and fascinating research continues to help us understand women’s bodies, as well as to understand the specific health care needs that women and girls face at different times of their lives. Adolescents and their parents are eager to understand the health consequences of the choices they make, and adolescents love to know that ovulation in their teen years is essential for the development of their brain, for their long-term bone health, and, for the development of a healthy and beautiful figure. Because of the relationship between ovulation and brain plasticity, these connections and benefits can only be established in the teenage years. Understanding these ramifications impacts choices that are made regarding the provision or use of hormonal steroids – hormonal contraception – within these critical years. Knowledge of this fascinating field is just beginning, and we are proud to be collaborators in the growing understanding of the links between neuroscience, hormones, and adolescent health outcomes.

Today we’re proud to showcase the work of a few of our partners as they serve rural women. Dr. Nkechi Asogwa runs Doctor’s Health Initiate in Nigeria. They work to serve the poorest of women, located in rural displaced persons camps, victims of Boko Haram. We are thrilled that they could participate in this presentation with us today through a video submission showcasing their work with rural women in Nigeria. I’d like to show that four-minute video now. In it, you’ll see the doctors and translators that Doctor’s Health Initiative partner with, teaching women in a displaced persons camp how to chart. The women are soft spoken and mention the side effects they’ve experienced from high hormone dosage implants that were provided. These can cause significant difficulties for rural women since health care providers will come to the village to put the implants or IUD’s in the women, but do not return to monitor their health, side effects or bleeding, and are not there to remove them as needed. One of the women speaks of this experience. It leaves them scared and unsure of what to do next. You’ll note that they are eager to learn how to understand their bodies, to be educated about their cycles, and to be given the tools they need to use the plants around them to help monitor and chart their cycles to manage their fertility.

 

 

Questions of access to education and care are pressing in rural areas, as you can see in this video, but as innovation and developments move forward quickly, transmission of best practices and improvements in these areas is a challenge we seek to meet. Technologies such as our app can help to overcome geographic disparity, and link women to teachers, and patients to medical providers. We are actively working to identify technology solutions to help us move forward in expanding access to FEMM.

Later today Kekuut Hoomkwap, FEMM’s CTO, will speak about the way we are conceptualizing and building our technology to ensure that FEMM reaches as many women as possible, so I won’t steal the thunder from this amazing and impassioned engineer about how she’s actualizing our goals for expanding access and connection in order to support women in every way through our programs and work.

This past year, through collaborations with the Reproductive Health Research Institute, six peer-reviewed articles were published in the developing area of women’s health – particularly adolescent health – and the impact of steroids (hormones), on the brain. This new and important research continues to help us understand women’s bodies, as well as to understand the specific health care needs that women and girls face at different times of their lives. Adolescents and their parents are eager to understand the health consequences of the choices they make, and adolescents need and want to know that ovulation in their teen years is essential for the development of their brain, for their long-term bone health, and, for the development of a healthy and beautiful figure. Because of the relationship between ovulation and brain plasticity, these connections and benefits can only be established in the teenage years. Understanding these ramifications impacts choices that are made regarding the provision or use of hormonal steroids – hormonal contraception – within these critical years. Knowledge of this fascinating field is just beginning, and we are proud to be collaborators in the growing understanding of the links between neuroscience, hormones, and adolescent health outcomes.

Despite the work that has been done, there is still much to do. We are committed to the ongoing research, education and technology development that is required to ensure that FEMM truly serves everyone. While we push innovation, invest in research, and commit to building a world that connects us all, we are also forming the necessary partnerships on which FEMM is built, that connect our technology to on the ground support, linking teachers, doctors, and women to each other when needed. We know that we will reach as far as they help us to reach. We can bring the information, technology and care systems to our partners; they will be our hands in bringing this care and healing to women directly around the world.

I’m honored to be joined on this panel by some of the people who are those hands. Dr. Don Bouchard is working with migrants and the rural poor in Michigan. Dr. Zakia Jahan, a FEMM teacher, completing her Master’s in Public Health, and soon to be a FEMM doctor when she joins our medical training in June, is one of the hands that will bring our work to the urban and rural women of Bangladesh. We have showcased in the video earlier the work of Dr. Nkechi Asogwa and her team of Doctors in Nigeria. With these and many more, we look forward to developing new and ongoing partnership and collaboration, as we work together to open new frontiers, countries, and languages to introduce women to the power of fertility awareness in general and what we’re building with FEMM in particular.

I thank Archbishop Auza and the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See for their interest in our work on behalf of women and girls everywhere and I likewise thank you for your kind attention.

Leave a Reply