The Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University (IRH) was recently awarded the A3 Project: Expanding Family Planning Access, Availability, and Awareness by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This project will contribute to the comprehensive goal of increasing availability of and access to family planning services and fertility awareness for women, men, and adolescents in order to reduce unintended pregnancies. Achieving this goal requires broad mobilization of resources and engagement by all sectors, including religious leaders and faith-based organizations (FBO), the private sector, and youth-serving organizations, to reach beyond the traditional health system and expand access to information and services.
Currently, more than 200 million women in the developing world want to avoid pregnancy but are not using family planning. Lack of availability of acceptable options, lack of access to information and services, and low levels of fertility awareness are some of the barriers this project will tackle. Using a multi-pronged approach to address these challenges, A3 will:
- Expand access to and use of fertility awareness-based methods of family planning through FBOs and their networks
Despite widespread recognition of the benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, one challenge to achieving positive health outcomes has been limited efforts to engage FBOs in family planning. FBOs often play a key role in health service delivery, particularly in Africa. IRH’s experience working with FBOs suggests that strengthening their capacity to reach more people with quality services and adding easy-to-use fertility awareness-based methods to the choices available has the potential to significantly increase access to and use of family planning.
- Increase access to the Standard Days Method® through a mobile phone technology solution
The unprecedented growth of mobile phone and internet use worldwide offers vast potential to reach women and couples directly with family planning services. Since 2009, IRH has been leading this charge by developing and testing a portfolio of mobile and digital tools that facilitate the use of the Standard Days Method (SDM). This offers the potential to overcome accessibility, availability, and affordability barriers and to provide a low-cost method directly on users’ phones.
- Improve the sexual and reproductive health of very young adolescents (ages 10-14), their parents, and their teachers
Because the early years of adolescence (ages 10-14) mark a critical transition between childhood and adulthood, setting the stage for future attitudes and behaviors, targeted investment in very young adolescents is imperative for healthy future relationships and positive sexual and reproductive health. IRH will work with youth-serving organizations to increase body literacy, fertility-awareness, gender-equitable attitudes, and other related outcomes among adolescents, their parents, and their teachers through CycleSmart+, which builds on IRH’s portfolio of interventions for adolescents.
IRH will work with in-country partners in several Sub-Saharan African countries to develop, test, and roll out these innovations.
According to Victoria Jennings, director of IRH and the A3 project, “This is a transformative opportunity to expand our work to improve the lives of women, families, and youth in low resource settings. We’re grateful for the confidence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has placed in us and we have already made strides by lining up an excellent team of partners in Africa.”