April 16, 2015
Yetnayet Asfaw Demessie, MD, MPH, Vice President for Strategy and Impact at EngenderHealth, one of the world’s leading reproductive and sexual health NGOs, spoke at Texas Southern University on “The Present State of Reproductive Public Health in the Developing World” as part of the ongoing partnership between the Humpty Dumpty Institute and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, to bring more international programming to HBCUs.
A private dinner was given for Dr. Asfaw Demessie by Texas Southern the evening before her lecture at Holley’s Restaurant in downtown Houston. The dinner was attended by Dr. Andrea Shelton, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Sciences, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, who served as Dr. Asfaw Demessie’s host for the visit; Dr. Danille K. Taylor, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences; Ethiopia Keleta, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Graduate School; Dr. Alvia J. Wardlaw, Professor in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts as well as director/curator of the University Museum at Texas Southern, and; Dr. Gregory Maddox, Dean of the Graduate School and Director of International Programs, as well as other faculty from TSU.
During a guest lecture to upper-level health sciences and pharmacy students, Dr. Asfaw Demessie discussed current issues in reproductive health (with special emphasis on family planning and maternal health) and the work of her organization, EngenderHealth. She stressed the importance of investing in reproductive health as being critical to families well being and quality of life in the context of development, and the future of reproductive health in the developing world. Dr. Asfaw Demessie detailed how today, an estimated 220 million women worldwide want to avoid pregnancy and plan their families but lack access to modern contraception. Family planning does more than help women and couples determine the size of their families: It safeguards individual health and rights, preserves natural resources, and can improve economic outcomes for families and communities. Family planning also saves lives—up to one-third of all maternal deaths and illnesses could be prevented if women had access to contraception. Dr. Asfaw Demessie said that the need for quality family planning services is all the more urgent today because more than 1.2 billion young people ages 15 to 24 are entering their reproductive years, comprising about 18% of the world’s population—the largest adolescent contingent in human history. Eighty-eight percent of these young people live in the developing world. EngenderHealth partners with governments, national health systems, community organizations, policymakers, and health care providers to: Improve the safety, efficacy, and quality of family planning services; Increase contraceptive options; Ensure that women are able to make informed choices; Strengthen and expand family planning services by making available additional reproductive health services that women and their families need, including HIV and AIDS services, and antenatal and obstetric care, and; Ensure continuing financial and social investment in family planning.
Concerning maternal health, Dr. Asfaw Demessie discussed how over the last two decades, maternal deaths have decreased by nearly 50% worldwide. Eight hundred women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications every day and almost all of these deaths—99%—occur in developing countries. And for every woman who dies in childbirth, another 20 to 50 survive but suffer devastating injuries, such as obstetric fistula. EngenderHealth’s woman-centered approach to maternal health addresses women’s sexual and reproductive health needs throughout their lives, including adolescence. Ensuring the availability of quality services helps pave the path for appropriate, specialized care during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Still, for many women, pregnancy marks their first contact with the health care system, which provides an unmatched opportunity not only to help make pregnancy and delivery safe for both mother and child, but also to address broader aspects of women’s health, including family planning, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STI). Dr. Asfaw Demessie concluded her presentation by stating that advancing women’s reproductive health and rights is vital to enable women to realize their full potential and therefore critical to global development.
Dr. Yetnayet Demessie Asfaw is Vice President, Strategy & Impact at EngenderHealth. Dr. Asfaw is a physician and public health professional with more than 15 years of global reproductive health experience in her native country of Ethiopia. Until recently, Dr. Asfaw was EngenderHealth’s Ethiopia Country Director where she oversaw highly successful programs in the country. In previous positions, Dr. Asfaw led and managed diverse health and development programs, major health projects funded by USAID and private donors. Previously, Dr. Asfaw served as a consultant and advisor to the government of Ethiopia, World Bank, World Health Organization, and the United Nations Children’s Fund in Ethiopia. Dr. Asfaw earned her medical degree and Master in Public Health from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.