TIME.com

by Bill Frist, MD and Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD

When it comes to the health of children and mothers worldwide, there are immense challenges yet many signs of hope.

Over 6.9 million children die every year in the developing world from preventable, treatable causes. While the loss of these children is a tragedy of epic proportions, the good news is that over the last six years, this number has been lowered by 35%. We know we can combat newborn mortality and enhance child survival. Simple, low-cost measures are being taken to ensure better health for these children around the world. Measures like oral rehydration therapy, bed nets to prevent malaria, and access to immunizations have accelerated the rate of reducing child mortality in developing nations.

With an increased focus on maternal, newborn, and child health over the past few years, the global community has seen real progress against daunting challenges. An underappreciated part of that story is healthy birth spacing and timing, or family planning, which has a profound effect on the survival and quality of life of both mothers and children. As Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Washington Post columnist, puts it, “family planning is a pro-life cause.”

When we talk about voluntary family planning in the international context, what do we mean? The definition I use is enabling women and couples to determine the number of pregnancies and their timing, and equipping women to use voluntary methods for preventing pregnancy, not including abortion, that are harmonious with their values and beliefs.

It shocks Americans to learn that one in every 39 child-bearing women in sub-Saharan Africa die in childbirth. However, when a woman delays her first pregnancy until she is at least 18, her chances of surviving childbirth increase dramatically. If she can space her pregnancies — through fertility-awareness methods (sometimes called natural family planning) or modern contraceptive tools — to at least three years between births, she is more likely to survive and her children are more than twice as likely to survive infancy.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a delegation in February for congressional staff, foundation, and nonprofit leaders, including Jenny Eaton Dyer, to see the emerging success of family planning in Ethiopia. With the infrastructure of their path-breaking Health Extension Worker (HEW) program, training 38,000 women as health workers in just a few years, women in the most rural communities now have access to antenatal care and family planning. With a Health Post designated for every 5,000 people, women have access to tools for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies without having to walk for miles to a higher level health facility. In less than a decade, since 2005, Ethiopia’s contraceptive prevalence rate has nearly doubled, from 15% to 29%.

Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, alongside an increase in births taking place in Health Centers with skilled care during delivery and post-partum care, offers a strikingly successful model to reduce maternal mortality and improve child survival.

In addition to expanding access to voluntary family planning information and services, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has also focused on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies as a critical factor for global health and development. Hope Through Healing Hands, with support from the Gates Foundation, is promoting awareness and advocacy among Americans to support maternal, newborn, and child health. We are highlighting the crucial role that voluntary family planning is playing in nations such as Ethiopia.

Healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies does more than save lives from health risks: it also allows girls to stay in school. In Ethiopia, where the average age of marriage is just 16 (with many girls married as young as age 11), girls are often forced to drop out of secondary school to begin families. If girls can delay their first pregnancy and stay in school, ideally until the university level, they will be better equipped to partner with their husbands to meet their children’s needs, in a more stable family economic environment.

And as First Lady Roman Tesfaye of Ethiopia stated, “When a mother can contribute to her own life and family, she contributes to the nation as a whole.” Moving beyond the national level, healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies is also a key to other global health goals, like combating hunger and improving the status of women and girls. Family planning is a key, often hidden, engine for additional global health achievements.

Family Planning 2020 is a global partnership of more than 20 governments working with civil society, multilateral organizations, the private sector and others. Created at a 2012 London summit, it represents a commitment to meet the needs of an additional 120 million women who want to delay or prevent pregnancy but lack access to information and tools.

With a focus on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, we can make major strides in just a few years. That’s great news for mothers, children, and our entire world.

Bill Frist is a former U.S. Senator from Tennessee. Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the executive director of Hope Through Healing Hands.

Our mission at the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide is to create advocates for maternal health, infant and children’s health, and for the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for women in developing world. This includes mothers in Africa, India, Mongolia, Guatemala, and everywhere where moms and children are living in extreme poverty. Where 222 million women (mostly married) want access to contraception, but it’s simply not available where they live.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) comprises 43.5% of the population, or almost half. After that, Muslim communities make up 33.9% of the population. In the minority, Protestant denominations comprise 18.6%. And finally, there are a few other traditional religions at 2.6%, and Catholics at less than 1%. The EOC has a long, rich cultural history in Ethiopia. It was a part of the Coptic Orthodox Church until 1959 when it was granted its own patriarch. It is a hierarchical religion with archbishops and bishops worldwide.

The Tennessean

By Adam Tamburin
| [email protected]

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is teaming with a local nonprofit founded by former Sen. Bill Frist to promote women’s health in developing countries.

Frist announced the partnership Monday. The Gates Foundation will focus on a new initiative spearheaded by Frist’s Hope Through Healing Hands organization.

That initiative, dubbed the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide, will aim to encourage faith leaders to discuss health issues facing mothers, newborns and children, according to a media statement.

In particular, the coalition plans to emphasize the importance of spacing and planning births using contraception or natural family planning methods. Hope Through Healing Hands and the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide will meet with evangelical and conservative leaders throughout the U.S. with an appeal to support these efforts, the statement said.

“Maternal and child health issues are at the core of global health and saving lives,” Frist said in the statement. “We know that family planning, including access to contraception, plays a critical role in combating maternal mortality and enhancing newborn and child survival rates.”

Dr. Jenny Eaton Dyer, the CEO and executive director of HTHH, says the coalition’s success could save lives.

“We are committed to leveraging our own networks in the United States to support maternal, newborn and child health by promoting awareness and education on the life-saving benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for mothers and children worldwide,” Dyer said.

FBC for HMACW logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Melany Ethridge: (972) 267-1111, [email protected], Kate Etue: (615) 481-8420 (m), [email protected]

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senator Bill Frist, M.D., announced today that Hope Through Healing Hands (HTHH), a Nashville-based global health organization, will partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide. The organization will be based in Nashville, Tenn., and led by Executive Director Jenny Dyer, Ph.D., who has been with HTHH since 2008.

HTHH was founded by Frist in 2004 to promote improved quality of life for citizens and communities around the world using health as a currency for peace. Now, through its new Coalition, it will focus on galvanizing faith leaders across the U.S. on the issues of maternal, newborn and child health in developing countries, with an emphasis on the benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, including the voluntary use of methods for preventing pregnancy, not including abortion, that are harmonious with their values and religious beliefs.

“Maternal and Child Health issues are at the core of global health and saving lives,” says Doctor-Senator Frist. “We know that family planning, including access to contraception, plays a critical role in combating maternal mortality and enhancing newborn and child survival rates, addressing directly Millennium Development Goals #4 and #5.”

More than 220 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy do not currently have access to effective contraceptives, information or services.

Support for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies is one of the most cost-effective and powerful strategies to empower women to get more education, obtain better jobs, and contribute to the economic health of their families and communities.

“We are committed to leveraging our own networks in the United States to support maternal, newborn, and child health by promoting awareness and education on the life-saving benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for mothers and children worldwide,” says Jenny Eaton Dyer, PhD. “We call on others to join this movement to save lives.”

HTHH and the Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide will meet with evangelical and conservative leaders throughout the U.S. with an appeal to support these initiatives, which will save the lives of mothers and children by greatly reducing the number of high-risk and unintended pregnancies that occur each year.

Hope Through Healing Hands is a Nashville-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to promote improved quality of life for citizens and communities around the world using health as a currency for peace. Senator Bill Frist, M.D., is the founder and chair of the organization, and Jenny Eaton Dyer, Ph.D., is the CEO/Executive Director.

Haiti Nursing Graduate Faculty

Two years ago, the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund granted $462,800 to Regis College to advance Haiti's future nursing leaders through a master's degree of nursing program in the country. The goal was to unite Haiti's government and higher education institutions to support nursing programs in their country. 

The grant enabled the country to elevate their nursing program to a higher level, which has resulted in sustaining nursing jobs, promoting healthcare standards, and transforming the health sector.

On February 18, 2014, the first twelve faculty graduates of the master's degree in nursing program from the University of Haiti. Twenty-four more faculty members will complete the program, who will in turn pass their education on to more than 4,000 students each year.

Read more at Regis College's website.

Over the last ten years, Ethiopia has implemented their Health Extension Worker (HEW) program building Health Posts with HEWs throughout the country. To date, there are some 38,000 HEWs; two at every post. This has amazing reach to communities whose individuals might otherwise have to walk for miles and miles just to have basic services for a sick child, contraception, or antenatal care. This being said, the Health Post does have limitations. The HEW cannot provide a high level of skilled care. For instance, women in Tigray are highly encouraged to take a “mobile ambulance” (i.e. stretcher) to the Health Center where they can have access to skilled health workers that are better prepared to manage complications during birth.
Upon the conclusion of the seventeen-year Ethiopian civil war, the region of Tigray, the northernmost province in Ethiopia, is the home to the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Their late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who led the revolution and won is celebrated still across the country. Today marked the annual Tigray People’s Liberation Front Celebration and the town of Mekele took a holiday to celebrate in a public event.

Welcome to Addis!

Meeting First Lady Roman Tesfaye

Feb 19 2014

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has pulled together a congressional delegation trip to Ethopia, and they invited me to join them. In leading HTHH’s Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children Worldwide, I was invited to meet the faith leaders here to learn their stories and the position on the progress of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies here in Ethiopia.

FGHL Blog: Beth O'Connell - Part 3

Report from the Field

Feb 14 2014

We visited a malnourished and abused child, named Cesar, who is doing much better. My hosts and I visited him in the hospital yesterday and he looked like a different child. He had been given a much needed hair cut and had gained about five pounds. He was watching cars and motorcycles out of his window and jabbering away in Q’eqchi’ about them. We did understand “beep, beep!” He is expected to be transferred to a rehabilitation center next week.

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