Thursday, July 29, 2010

New Weapons in the Fight Against HIV

For decades the HIV epidemic within the United States has withstood all efforts to halt it. Today, over one million Americans are HIV positive. 3% of them reside in Maryland, making it the state with the third highest rate of infection per 100,000 people in the United States. Becoming HIV-positive can be a devastating event, leading to monthly medical bills of $2,100 and many other medical conditions as the immune system declines. Thankfully, President Obama has recognized the importance of treating and preventing HIV and has released an ambitious strategy to halt its spread and provide high-quality care for those who are infected.

The plan’s most impressive goal is to lower the number of new infections per year by 25% by 2015. This will be accomplished by testing more people for HIV, making HIV therapy more available and affordable, and renewing efforts to education people about HIV. To ensure that these efforts are as effective as possible, they will be focused on populations that have the highest risk of becoming infected with HIV, including minorities, drug-users, and gay and bisexual men. Contributing factors to the high risk of infection includes insufficient access to health care services among minorities and insufficient sex education, especially for gay and bisexual men

Another important innovation in fighting the spread of HIV is the recently announced Tenofovir gel. Tenofovir gel, a vaginal gel that includes the antiviral drug Tenofovir, has been show to cut a woman’s likelihood of infection by 50% after one year of use. Currently, condoms (both male and female) are the most common method used to prevent the transmission of HIV and other STIs. Although the results still need to be confirmed, the preliminary success of the gel’s trial is an important step in providing women with another option to protect themselves from infection.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Friday Night Lights Stands up for Choice

While most television shows shy away from discussing abortion, the July 9th episode of Friday Night Lights, a show about life in a small Texas town, bravely tackled the topic. In the episode Becky, a tenth-grader, discovers she’s unexpectedly pregnant. As she talks to her mother and the local high school’s principal, she considers what life would be, for both herself and the child, if she chose to continue her pregnancy. After considering her options, Becky decides that having an abortion is the best course of action for her.

This video is an overview for the entire episode, but contains key highlights form the teen pregnancy story line:

The choice makes Becky a rarity among television and movie characters who face unplanned pregnancies, with almost all other characters choosing to continue the pregnancy or having an opportune miscarriage. While their choice reflects many women’s experiences, the decision to end a pregnancy is equally valid. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and 30 other state and national organizations applaud NBC and Friday Night Lights for honestly and compassionately portraying a situation that that over one million women experience each year.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why We Need Better Coverage for Birth Control

The recently released list of preventative services that insurers will be required to cover at no cost to patients includes many victories for women.  However, there was one glaring exception: birth control.   As Laura Hessburg, a senior health policy adviser at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said “contraception should be regarded as basic preventive health care.” The Department of Health and Human Services is still reviewing possible additions to the list of preventative care services that will be offered to women.  Hopefully, the facts and the majority of Americans will be heard and women will be provided with birth control as an essential part of preventative care.  
The benefits of including birth control in this policy are clear. Allowing women to plan their pregnancies lessens the health risks for both woman and child.  Women who become unintentionally pregnant are less likely to get vitally important pre-natal care. This can potentially cause health risks for the child, including premature birth and lower birth weight.  They are also unlikely to have been screened for conditions that could lead to their health being threatened by pregnancy.  An additional benefit to increasing the availability of birth control is the fact that as the rate of unintended pregnancies decreased, the number of abortions would also decrease.

Covering birth control also leads to lower financial costs for women.  Women who have insurance face payments between $160 and $600 per year for birth control, a significant financial burden for any woman, but especially for low-income women.  It should also be noted that while both men and women benefit from birth control, women often disproportionately shoulder the financial responsibility.  Including birth control in preventative care coverage would help create a more equal playing field.  In addition, the cost of contraception is much less than the cost of pre-natal and maternal health care. Of course women who choose to continue their pregnancies should receive high quality care. But the amount of money that can be saved by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies is astronomical.   In 2002, unintentional pregnancies cost the health-care system $5 billion and women anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 per delivery. Whereas, in 2002 using contraceptives saved the health-care system 19 Billion.  As Health-care costs have risen since 2002 these figures are have probably stayed true or increased.  While there is an upfront cost in expanding coverage, the long term savings far exceed the initial investment.  

Requiring insurance companies to fully over birth control not only makes medical and financial sense, it enjoys an immense amount of public support as well.  81% of Americans support the availability of birth control.  Even among socially conservative groups, such as Evangelical Christians, there is widespread support for birth control. 

Access to birth control is imperative to women’s health and well being. As the health-care system is reformed, women’s basic needs should not be comprised or politicized (more than they already have been).  It’s simple: providing full coverage for birth control helps to improve the financial health of both women and the health-care system.  Even more importantly, it helps keep women and children healthy while ensuring that women have control over their bodies.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Short-Comings of G8's Maternal and Child Health Campaign

The 2010 G8 summit held on June 25th-26th in Ontario, Canada has raised concerns among the pro-choice community. The G8, which stands for Group of 8, is a political organization designed to effect change among the world's most powerful industrialized nations. The countries that comprise the G8 are Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. More than a dozen civil society networks brought various petitions urging G8 leaders to take action regarding maternal and child health, to honor the pledge to help developing countries adapt to climate change as well as to agree on a concrete plan to sustain HIV/AIDS treatment programs.

Prior to this year’s summit, conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a new international campaign for maternal and child health. Canada is committing $1.1 billion Canadian dollars in new spending over five years for maternal and child health programs in poor countries. As part of the campaign, Harper called for increased funding and resources from governments, non-governmental organizations, and private foundations for a series of mediations focusing mainly on nutrition, vaccines, and clean water. In a world where the value of investing in maternal health is often overlooked, the potential benefits of this campaign are invaluable. However, Harper's failure to mention the topics of abortion care or contraception in the policy is disconcerting. With 13% of maternal deaths each year caused by illegal and unsafe abortions, which equates to about 70,000 women, it is counter-intuitive to exclude the topic of abortion from a campaign concerning maternal health.

In a review of the G8 meeting, RH Reality Check includes a statement from Dorothy Ngoma, Executive Director of the National Organization of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi, which discusses the importance of addressing maternal health as well as the G8's failure to meet prior commitments:

“It is immoral that 350,000 or more women are dying each year during pregnancy and childbirth. The question, Ngoma said, is 'why have the world leaders in the G8 failed to protect women’s lives?' She continued, 'Who is going to protect these women? World leaders promised to cut maternal deaths by 75% by 2015, but we don’t seem to be making much progress.'”

Harper also received a strong rebuke from Secretary Hillary Clinton, who was quoted in an article from The Nation saying:

"You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion."

In response to public criticism, Harper has agreed to add family planning to his initiative, but remains unwilling to compromise on abortion. If the ultimate aim of Harper's campaign is to save the lives of women and children, it is imperative that the administration recognize that these health goals will not and cannot be achieved without the willingness to directly fund safe abortion services. Access to contraception as well as safe and legal abortion services are both necessary components of a truly comprehensive and effective approach to achieving maternal and child well-being.