Op-Ed: Planned Parenthood in the Dominican Republic

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Anna Jensen-Clem and Sara Veltkamp are Communications Fellows with Global Washington, a membership association that promotes and supports the global development sector in the state of Washington. 

A young woman in the Dominican Republic has worked in a peer-counseling group for two years, and has become a resource for other youth who struggle with sexual health questions. “After two years in MAMI’s peer education group, I know where I am, who I am, and where I am going.” This young woman is one of thousands whose lives have been changed by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest’s compassionate and comprehensive international programs.

While the benefits to family planning are numerous, particularly in areas where access to reliable healthcare is limited, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 222 million women who would like to prevent or delay childbirth have no access to family planning tools. According to the WHO, family planning prevents pregnancy-related health risks, reduces infant mortality, prevents the spread of HIV, empowers people, particularly women and young girls, enhances education, reduces adolescent pregnancies, and slows population growth which lessens the demand on resources. Planned Parenthood, an international nonprofit with affiliates across the globe, is one of the largest providers of reproductive and sexual healthcare and works to provide the necessary family planning tools to increase the number of people who are able to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health and meet Planned Parenthood’s mission of fostering a community where every child is wanted.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGNW) serves western Washington, Southern Idaho, and Alaska, and is the largest provider of reproductive healthcare in the region. Planned Parenthood as an organization is split into three tiers. The international and overarching organization is called the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and oversees projects, policy, and priorities across the world. The United States affiliate, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is headquartered in New York City. PPGNW is a local affiliate of PPFA, and is one of the only such groups to provide international programming and services in addition to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) resources and services for communities in the Northwest.

PPGNW has supported several international programs with grants from both the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Suzanne Cluett International Endowment, which was started in 2005 with a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. PPGNW has supported local partner organizations to implement programs in Ecuador, Laos, Nepal, Cameroon, and the Dominican Republic.  The programs focus primarily on vulnerable women and adolescent girls and include medical training, youth leadership and SRH education, and services that improve both access to and effectiveness of health care.

PPGNW’s program in the Dominican Republic has been in place since 2010, and has been supported through the international endowment. PPGNW partners with the Módulo Anexo Materno Infantil (MAMI), a community-based nonprofit in La Romana, Dominican Republic. MAMI itself is a collaboration between the local hospital and Clínica de Familia La Romana, a local HIV and primary care clinic. This partnership has resulted in the founding of a clinic with resources designated specifically for adolescents who need SRH information, and pre- and post-natal care. In addition to providing quality and affordable reproductive care, MAMI and PPGNW work to provide a safe and welcoming space for adolescents who otherwise would lack resources and information about their reproductive health.

Between November of 2010 and September of 2012, the MAMI-PPGNW project reached 6,986 youth in 1029 classroom sessions in La Romana (this is in comparison to 2009, when MAMI reached out to 1388 youth in 53 sessions—a 403% increase in the number of adolescents reached). The project has two main foci: classroom SRH education sessions and training of peer educators in SRH education. In addition to working with youth in La Romana in general, the program also focuses on youth of Haitian descent who live in the batey sugar cane farming communities, as residents of these communities “face discrimination by Dominican society, and have the poorest health outcomes in the province.”

Through a series of small grants, PPGNW has helped to establish the SRH education programs in La Romana; trained educators discuss a wide variety of issues with youth in the program, including questions about sexuality, gender-based and intimate partner violence, living with HIV, sexually-transmitted infections, family planning resources, and adolescent pregnancy.

In the spirit of sharing information and collaboration, two staff from MAMI traveled to Seattle in February to discuss strategies for monitoring and evaluation and strengthening the messages about gender roles in the education curriculum, as well as for a brief training and technical assistance session. The program is expected to continue for several years, and groups in the Dominican Republic and Seattle will continue to learn from each other and provide resources for youth in both countries. Global Washington, a Washington State membership organization, takes great pride in bringing together global health, education, and development organizations like Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

I have learned so much in MAMI about sexual health, communication, and leadership . . . other youth look for us to give them accurate information and answer their questions.

– Anna Jensen-Clem and Sara Veltkamp

Photo: IPPF

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