The health needs of women and girls in rural areas often go underserved, but a holistic women’s health platform is using modern technology to meet those needs.
On March 22, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations co-sponsored a side event together with the World Youth Alliance and Fertility Education and Medical Management (FEMM), entitled “Affirming the Human Dignity of Rural Women and Girls through Healthcare and Education," during the 62nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.
FEMM is a comprehensive women’s health program that teaches women to understand their bodies and by recognizing and charting hormonal markers, and its free phone application links rural women to doctors they may not otherwise have access to.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to United Nations, said that FEMM offers women a holistic way to value and understand her body’s natural cycles to either avoid conception or help them conceive.
“Respecting the dignity of woman means accepting and valuing her at the level of her full humanity, including the maternal meaning of her femininity and the innate patterns of her fertility cycle,” he said, noting that many contemporary approaches to reproductive health and undermine the natural functions of a women’s. “There’s another way. A way in line with her dignity.”
FEMM not only offers an integrals alternative to mainstream family planning methods, but can also be used to diagnose many underlying women’s health issues such as infertility, PMS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and acne that hormonal contraception can often mask, he said.
Anna Halpine, CEO of FEMM, gave a detailed look into how the program monitors physical markers to identify how hormones are reacting in a woman’s body, which can often lead to contact with doctors and hormonal testing if concerns are found. This is good news for rural women who are often far from doctors, and gives them the opportunity to make safe healthcare decisions.
“FEMM is uniquely positioned to bring innovations and excellence in health information and care to rural women,” she said. “FEMM’s application [on iPhones and Google] currently has over 390 thousand users, many of whom are in Latin America and Africa.”
Halpine showed a video which showcased the impact FEMM is making in rural villages, even refugee camps for internally displaced people, in Nigeria. The video featured one rural woman who faced serious health risks when a high-dosage implant inserted by a foreign organization caused her to hemorrhage.
“Healthcare providers who provide these implants are not often there to remove them when difficulties emerge,” Halpine said. “They are eager for this information and ready to be educated about their cycles. They want to be given the tools they need.”
Kekuut Hoomkwap, Chief Technology Officer for the FEMM Foundation, walked the room through the FEMM App to highlight how it uses technology to help rural women track their cycles and physical markers to monitor their health and plan their families. They have different versions of the phone App depending on a woman’s literacy level and a platform to connect them to doctors remotely.
“Education is key,” Hoomkwap said. "We provide e-learning allows people to access educators they can help them manage their health and accomplish their goals.”
Since access to cell phones can be limited in many rural areas, Hoomkwap said that multiple women can log into their accounts on one phone, which often belongs to the health educator, to track their data.”
Dr. Zakia Jahan, Founder and Director of the Center for Human Development, has brought FEMM to the rural women of Bangladesh and said that FEMM’s fertility awareness and health resources, like the online app, network of certified FEMM teachers, and trained medical providers, provide for many of the unnmet needs women and girls in Bangladesh face, especially in the conservative cultural contexts where rural women often live.
“Comparing FEMM Family Planning to alternate methods of contraception and their mechanisms of action, effectiveness rates, and side effects, one can conclude that FEMM is just as effective but more attractive because it does not risk unpleasant side effects and also empowers women to monitor their health,” she said, noting that clinics that use FEMM find a reduction of unwanted pregnancies, resulting in a decrease of abortions.
Dr. Don Bouchard, who works at the Holy Family Healthcare Center in Kalamzoo, Michigan where the majority of his patients are migrant farmers, said that the Center works with FEMM and its parent organization to educate and help patients become agents involved with their own healthcare and that of their families. They teach the Human-Dignity Curriculum that the World Youth Alliance has developed to build the self-worth and responsible practices of students.
“Each visit is an opportunity to educate those who are entrusted to our care,” he said. “Taught and received well, this program educates women to understand how their bodies work. This knowledge empowers and equips women through this understanding to identify and address common health problems.”
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.
To read Archbishop Auza's full remarks, click here.