Advancing Women’s Health Care at Home and Abroad

Every year on March 8 we mark the occasion of International Women’s Day. For women’s health care providers, it creates an opportunity to reflect upon the patient population we serve, at home and the world. This year, to commemorate International Women’s Day, I’d like to celebrate ACOG’s recent successes in women’s health, while they are proud achievements to be sure, there is still significant work to be done to gain sustainable improvements around the globe.

ACOG is committed to leveraging the expertise and commitment of our Fellows to support women’s health programs around the world through the Office of Global Women’s Health (OGWH). Our mission is to increase women’s access to quality health care:

  • by building provider skills,
  • supporting implementation of high impact interventions,
  • and scaling proven solutions to decrease maternal mortality and morbidity.

OGWH has a portfolio of programs in 11 countries, including Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and more. While our work in each country is unique, it’s guided by a shared set of goals.

It would take a great many pages to provide a detailed overview of all OGWH’s efforts, but I’ll share two success stories from different parts of the globe.

In Malawi, ACOG implemented a demonstration project based on the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health. Together with the Malawi Ministry of Health and Baylor College of Medicine, ACOG tailored post-partum hemorrhage (PPH) bundles to improve recognition and management of obstetric complications. Hundreds of local hospital staff were trained in team communication and PPH management, and prepared for implementation of the bundles. The program reduced incidences of maternal hemorrhage and increased lifesaving interventions from 3.7 percent to 34.4 percent for patients who had uterine atony after delivery.

In Central America, ACOG works to enhance professional education and training standards through the Central American Residency Program. Our efforts support development of residency accreditation and administration of in-service exams, establishment of minimal educational standards, quality assurance processes and mentorship of hospital leaders. Over time, we’ve built very strong relationships and now engage with 75 percent of all ob-gyn residency programs in Central America.

These are just two snapshots of OGWH’s work to advance women’s health across the globe, but they help to illustrate the breadth of opportunity – from preventing maternal deaths to raising the standard of medical practice. As women’s health care providers, we must continue to work together with our colleagues near and far to build a health care system that serves every woman’s needs. In addition to the programs outlined above, ACOG annually hosts a meeting of academic ob-gyn from across the globe to ensure a continuous exchange of knowledge and experience sharing.

ACOG has a unique platform to share knowledge and resources to improve the delivery of care globally. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become involved with these opportunities, visit www.acog.org/ogwh.

Four Ways ACOG Has Impacted Global Women’s Health in Just the Past Year

In 1994, my wife and I arrived for our first two-week mission in the Dominican Republic and were stunned by the line of people waiting outside of the hospital for us. Since medical school more than a decade earlier, we had dreamed of participating in mission projects around the world to help women in dire need of basic medical care. But then my wife began her career as a nurse, we started our family, and after residency I went into private practice. So, that goal went by the wayside. However, our trip to the Dominican Republic quickly reignited our hopes of providing necessary ob-gyn services in low resource settings. Living in the United States, it’s easy to forget that many countries around the world are battling poverty and disease and don’t have the same infrastructure and safety nets we do. After that first trip, I came home to a fully equipped operating room with the proper tools and lights that worked, my wife didn’t have to hold a flashlight during surgery because the power was out. We had carpeting and hot water at home. From that point on, my eyes were opened.

Since that first trip, I’ve continued to travel and offer my services to advance health care in struggling countries. This work has taught me that we can really make a difference in global women’s health by sharing our knowledge and resources as ob-gyns. As my presidential term at ACOG comes to a close, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what we have accomplished from my six-point plan, developed over a year ago, to help improve the health of women and children worldwide, with a focus on training and providing health care around the world.

The first step was to make these kinds of missions more easily identified and attainable. While it’s often not realistic to leave your practice for months; two weeks is doable. That’s why we developed a listing or database of non-profit organizations involved in two-week mission work in which some of our members had participated. Now on the ACOG website there is a global health resource center. ACOG members can discover more information about each organization, check these organizations’ calendars for potential projects, talk with ACOG fellows and junior fellows who have done projects, and sign up. And we must continue to get the word out so more members use and add to the database.

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we’ve also formed and grown the Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health (AIM), which creates instructional and educational portfolios, or “safety bundles,” to fight high rates of maternal mortality in the United States and now Malawi. Women living in rural areas of Malawi give birth at community health centers that can’t perform operative vaginal deliveries or C-sections. When these situations arise or other complications occur, women are transferred to the central hospital in the city, most often without any attempts at stabilization prior to transport. They are often in poor condition when they arrive, which results in many otherwise preventable maternal deaths. The AIM postpartum hemorrhage bundle has been instituted into practice at both the community health clinic and referral hospital. To date, more than 130 local people have participated in vital simulations to help these patients. And while we do not have formal data on the program yet, we know that several women have received life-saving care because the teams were able to communicate and execute care in a way that they didn’t before. We anticipate many more successes that will hopefully mirror the kinds of gains we have seen here in the United States.

In addition, last year ACOG partnered with Health Volunteers Overseas, a nonprofit group that helps educate and train local health providers in underdeveloped countries in various areas of obstetrics and gynecology. It begins with local providers telling us what they need and then we come up with a plan and work together to make it happen. As of today, we have completed four site assessments and will begin offering global service opportunities for fellows in the four countries by May 2017.

Lastly, in Ethiopia, we received a five-year grant to develop a plan in partnership with the Ethiopian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to strengthen their ob-gyn residency training programs and curriculum, improve continuing medical education, support the publishing and accessibility of clinical outcomes research, and develop an ob-gyn examination and certification program. Since its inception, the program has made great strides by working “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Ethiopians. As a result of this program, there is now interest from other African countries to begin the same program.

The bottom line is, many women around the world are lacking access to quality, evidence-based health care and they are paying the price with their lives. As ob-gyns, we have the power to prevent this by using our skills to help reduce global maternal morbidity and mortality, as well as improved quality of life. These programs are a prime example of how we can achieve that by dedicating some of our time and effort to a cause that is greater than ourselves. While we’ve accomplished a lot, we still have much to do. So, even if you aren’t sure you have the time, consider any way you can contribute. Believe me, it will make a difference.