I am writing you tonight as I sit on my living room couch eating scrambled eggs for dinner after a full day of travel outside of the city. Today, three new friends and I traveled to see part of the Mongolian health care system outside of the city.

March 14, 2016 | Outreach Magazine

Mother’s Day is the perfect time to kick off a new set of small groups for women interested in helping mothers across the globe. Encourage your women to invite their friends and neighbors to join a small group. For curriculum, consider The Mother and Child Project: Raising Our Voices for Health and Hope (Zondervan)—a book (and discussion guide) that promotes a movement to increase healthy pregnancies and decrease death rates worldwide.

Hope Through Healing Hands, a nonprofit working to educate women about newborn and child health, timing and spacing of pregnancies, clean water, HIV/AIDS, etc., compiled the book and offers helpful ideas and resources to get involved.

This post originally appeared on Outreach Magazine

Yesterday International Women Day was celebrated by giving cakes, sweets, flowers in appreciation of women around the country. It kind of reminded me of Valentines day in the states- I was walking around towards the downtown square and passed countless men carrying flowers or cake boxes home. So naturally- I got myself a cupcake to celebrate :). It actually was pretty tasty! The day was also celebrated with no work- so I got a holiday on my second day.

Travel helps me better understand and appreciate the world around me.  Public health has become my passion. Follow me as I learn to bring the love of travel and public health together through my Master of Public Health field experience in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

This adventure will begin on March 2nd as I begin my two day trek from East Tennessee State University to my temporary home for two months.  There will be many lessons learned, knowledge gained, and many pictures to share with you throughout this experience.  I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

March 4, 2016 | Relevant Magazine

Considerations of contraceptives in light of the Zika virus
Zika Virus
From ancient times until today, childbirth remains one of the most fearful and oftentimes painful moments in a woman’s life. Complications from pregnancy to postpartum, even today, can mean death for both mother and child. In fact, over 300,000 women die every year from preventable, treatable complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and for those newborns whose mother does not survive, they are 10 times more likely not to survive their first two years.

And now, the epidemic of the Zika virus is bringing issues of maternal and infant health to the front and center in many developing countries. Zika can be spread from a mother to a fetus, and is know to cause a birth defect known as microcephaly.

To date, the Zika virus has been associated with over 4,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil and Latin America. More than 4 million people are expected to contract the virus within the next year.

Already, the CDC issued advisories for the Americas calling for postponing travel to the region, mosquito bite avoidance and safe sex practices. The Public Health Agency of Canada is even suggesting that women wait at least two months after travel before trying to get pregnant. Even Pope Francis has condoned the use of contraception during this period.

But what about the women who live in the undeveloped parts of those countries where Zika is spreading? Hundreds of thousands of women in many developing countries may not have access to quality health care or the proper prenatal counseling and care during and after pregnancy and childbirth.

More than 220 million women around the world say they want to avoid getting pregnant again but lack the information or the access to contraceptives to do so. This doesn't just affect maternal health during outbreaks such as Zika; studies show that if the woman’s first debut of pregnancy is at or after 20 years of age, she is five times more likely to survive complications of pregnancy and childbirth than someone 15 years of age or younger.

Contraceptives can be a tricky subject for Christians. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally opposed contraceptives, encouraging parishioners to practice natural family planning instead. Some protestants also personally oppose the use of contraceptives, while others see no problem with them. But, whether a woman wants to space out her pregnancies using natural family planning or a form of contraceptives, access to both information and contraceptives is limited in many Latin American countries. Prescriptions are required for birth control, pills are overpriced and the supplies are often not stocked properly in local pharmacies.

And once a woman gets pregnant, she may not have access to proper care during and after childbirth. It is also important to note the high rates of sexual violence, particularly in the Central America-4 region (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua). Many women are victims of rape, causing unintended pregnancies. For instance, in El Salvador, unintended pregnancies account for over half of the pregnancies across the nation.

In the face of the Zika epidemic, sexual violence and maternal mortality, what is our responsibility as Christians in terms of advocacy for these women, girls and mothers-to-be?

In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel’s mother offers him some guidance in his ruling: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor." We are called to advocate on behalf of vulnerable populations; we are called to provide a compassionate response to individuals in the face of violence, disease and extreme poverty. And in this case, part of the response may be to advocate for voluntary access to affordable, modern contraceptives so women can safely time, space and delay having children if they wish to do so. This should also include good counseling about natural family planning, or fertility awareness, if that is the desired method of choice.

Times of emergency rouse compassionate responses and a sense of urgency to address the perilous situation. In this situation, the Zika virus provides a clarion call to rethink the critical role of contraceptives in the lives of mothers and children and families not only in Latin America, but also around the world. Not only can contraceptives be life saving, but they also allow for a family to flourish—to emerge out of poverty, to feed every child, to send children to school and to allow moms to go back to work.

Let’s use this moment to reopen the discussion around family planning (not including abortion) for women in developing nations. Our U.S. government spends less than 1 percent of our budget on foreign assistance, and less than a fraction of that attends to maternal and child health and healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. As Christians, this is a moment to speak up on behalf of mothers and children worldwide to protect or increase this funding. For less than a penny to the dollar, lives are saved—and changed.

This article originally appeared in Relevant Magazine

"One may observe in one's travels to distant countries the feelings of recognition and affiliation that link every human being to every other human being." – Aristotle

At the age of nineteen I scribbled this quote on the inside cover of a journal I kept while interning at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Kampala, Uganda - a one month experience that I, in my naïvety, had assumed would shine light on answers to the world's problems and provide me with direction in my future studies and career choices. Not so shockingly, I returned home with more questions than answers about the all-too-exhaustive list of social injustices in this world and how I could possibly play a role.
The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington DC, holds a monthly speakers luncheon for Congressional staff interested in the various topics related to foreign assistance. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

Feb. 29, 2016 | The Hill

Senator Bill Frist water

As the 2016 primaries unfold, it’s time for candidates of both parties to focus on expanding the big-hearted policies that have made this nation so exceptional.

In recent years, the most effective of those policies has been global health — that is, putting U.S. resources to work saving lives in developing nations by spreading health treatments that work here at home. In a study for the Bipartisan Policy Center last November, we showed how the largest global health project in history, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), has not only saved millions of lives but also improved America’s national security.

Under PEPFAR, launched under former President George W. Bush and enhanced under President Obama, with bipartisan support in Congress over more than a decade, 9.5 million men, women and children, mainly in Africa, are receiving lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs. Some 68 million have gotten HIV testing and counseling, 5.5 million orphans and vulnerable children have received care and support, and 190,000 new healthcare workers have been trained. In addition, our study found that in PEPFAR countries, political instability and violence have fallen 40 percent (compared to just 3 percent in equivalent non-PEPFAR countries), while economic growth has increased — and so has America’s reputation.

Now, a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, released in January, has discovered that, while Americans are proud of the accomplishments of programs like PEPFAR, a majority (53 percent) believe we are already “doing enough to improve health in developing countries.” And a majority (55 percent) believe that “spending more money won’t make much difference in improving health in developing countries.”

Those are disturbing statistics. They stray far from reality. The truth is that the U.S. has the innovation and the resources to put an end to rampant deaths not only from AIDS but from such scourges as malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis C. Based on the PEPFAR experience, we have proof that health will be improved dramatically — and Americans themselves will benefit.

The good news is that the Kaiser study provides important guidance on how to persuade Americans that our nation should do more. The starting point is better education about global health.

The public is woefully misinformed not just about the success of U.S. programs but about their cost. The Kaiser survey, taken in December, found that, on average, those polled believed that 31 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid (including health programs). The actual figure is less than 1 percent (correctly estimated by just 3 percent of those polled). Researchers discovered that, when respondents were informed of the correct spending on foreign aid, their support of increased spending on global health improved significantly.

Actual spending on global health by the U.S. government has been steady at between $9.2 billion and $10.2 billion per year since 2009, with the exception of 2015, when an additional $3.7 billion was spent to stem the Ebola crisis that directly threatened the health of Americans. For 2016, global health represents just 0.2 percent of federal spending, or about $10 billion out of $4.1 trillion. Another way of saying this is that just $32 out of the average American’s tax bill will go to global health programs — with about $19 for fighting AIDS, $2 for malaria, $1 for tuberculosis and $2 for maternal and child health.

Kaiser’s national study also asked respondents to give the most important reason for spending U.S. tax dollars to improve global health. In first place, by far, was “because it’s the right thing to do,” chosen by 46 percent. That’s no surprise. This is the most benevolent country in the world. When our 43rd president announced PEPFAR in 2003, he said, “Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.”

Our humanitarian instincts are the bedrock of global health programs, but the Kaiser study also pointed to other strong reasons to spend federal money: “to improve our diplomatic relationships,” “to help ensure national security,” “to help the U.S. economy,” and “to improve the U.S.’s image around the world.” In total, these four justifications topped the list for 48 percent of respondents. Another practical reason to improve health abroad is to prevent diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus from spreading through our own population.

As the presidential campaign progresses, we believe that Americans will want to hear candidates appeal to what Abraham Lincoln referred to as “the better angels of our nature.” Wiping out diseases in poorer countries is simply the right thing to do. But Americans are pragmatic people, too, and, as the Kaiser research shows, we want our contributions to be both cost-effective and beneficial to our own nation as well.

As our research has shown, programs like PEPFAR meet all of those tests: humanitarian, practical and self-serving. In this election season, Americans must require candidates for public office who demonstrate the leadership we will need to ensure global — and national — health.

Daschle served in the Senate from 1987 to 2005 and as Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2003. Frist, a physician, served in the Senate from 1995 to 2007 and as Senate majority leader from 2003 to 2007.

This post first appeared in The Hill.

I have never been so thankful for a shower! I am happy to say that after a two day journey and a lot of jet lag I have made it to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I arrived late last night around 3AM here to meet wonderful hosts who welcomed me to this beautiful city. I can honestly say I had no idea what to expect, or what it would look like coming in. I feel very comfortable here so far and have enjoyed walking (not too far) around my apartment.
Since the 1990's, the U.S. foreign aid budget has helped cut global poverty in HALF. Yet, foreign aid comprises less than 1% of the entire U.S. budget. Foreign aid isn't just a humanitarian cause - when global health improves and poverty is eliminated, citizens of the U.S. benefits from greater global security and a thriving global economy.

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