The lack of sex education and inavailability of contraceptives also plays a major role in increasing teenage pregnancy, as well as in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Both contribute to the perpetration of HIV and AIDS epidemics that have long plagued many underdeveloped areas, and are one of the single biggest collateral challenges to maternal and newborn health, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Providing knowledge about reproductive health rights and access to basic reproductive healthcare services in emergency settings, particularly in conflict situations such as Northern Uganda, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been the main goal of Columbia University’s RAISE Initiative since its founding in 2006.
“Working in a conflict situation like Congo it’s just not easy: there are the standard logistic and security challenges to programming, but even more so for reproductive health rights,” said Therese McGinn during a phone interview.
Dealing with women’s issues in general – and in a conflict situation in particular — presents more difficulties not only logistically, but also at the level of the availability and effective outreach of providers and the openness and receptiveness of local communities themselves, explained McGinn, an Associate Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Director of the Reproductive Health Access, Information and Services in Emergences (RAISE) Initiative. She said there is little interest in issues such as the use of contraceptives (as low as six percent in the Congo), family planning, and post-abortion care.
“A woman in Eastern Congo might not know a single other person who uses family planning,” McGinn continued. “Usually families and providers of reproductive healthcare services manage to maintain a little structural support and social awareness of the issues. In this case, the planning and the counseling have to start from scratch.”