Wednesday, October 21, 2009

U.S. finally on board with progress

By Brian Dixon

Last week, the United Nations held a special session to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and to review progress toward meeting the ambitious goal of ensuring universal access to family planning by 2015.

At this meeting, a U.S. official delivered an important statement reiterating that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are committed to expanding global access to family planning. He said, “The United States strongly supports the goals and ideals of the ICPD, and under President Obama’s leadership has renewed our commitment to work with the international community to implement the ICPD Program of Action.”

Such an expression comes after eight years of Bush administration actions designed to undermine progress on family planning. Speeches are nice and can be helpful, but actions are more important. To that end, we’ve been extremely pleased by the significant increases in international family planning that the president has called for and that congress is moving toward approving. We’re also very happy with the president’s decision to restore U.S. aid to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and to lift the harmful Global Gag Rule that barred U.S. assistance to some of the most experienced and effective providers of family planning in the developing world.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Not Yet Rain" had advocates pouring in

By Rebecca Harrington, National Field Coordinator

On Thursday, October 15, we held a film screening in Columbus, OH, the first in a series of events for our Double the Money campaign. We showed the film Not Yet Rain at the well-loved Studio 35 Cinema and Drafthouse. A one-screen theater with a vintage feel, funky wall murals, and a cozy bar, the theater is a staple of Clintonville, a hip northern Columbus neighborhood.

For the screening, we partnered with the Columbus International Film and Video Festival and the local chapter of the Sierra Club. The Film Festival prides itself on 57 years of showing and granting awards to unique and edgy films. The Sierra Club chapter works on environmental issues specific to central Ohio.

A diverse and interesting crowd braved the Ohio cold to watch the film, chat with Population Connection staff and other guests, and to eat delicious food from the local Surly Girl Saloon, another Columbus favorite. In addition to discussing the film as a group and connecting with people at a reception following the screening, many of those in attendance signed our petition to Double the Money, and requested copies of the film to share with classes, groups, and friends.

A few especially memorable guests included a physician’s assistant student from Cleveland, who was grateful for (and startled by) all she’d learned from the film and discussion; an anthropology professor from Tennessee, who wants to screen the film with her classes; and a mother and daughter pair who are passionate about both the arts and women’s issues.

In addition to representing a diversity of interests, people of all ages attended the screening. Everyone was equally energetic and engaged, and the group melded nicely. Free dinner, beer, and cupcakes always brings a group together!

The screening was a great way to kick things off in Ohio, and we’re very much looking forward to our next event in Columbus.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lots of Surprising Results

By Marian Starkey

The XXVI International Population Conference (IUSSP) ended last Friday in Marrakech and I am finally settling back into my normal office routine. I didn't have the greatest Internet connection while I was overseas so I neglected to post a final blog entry about the conference sessions. Here it is, a week late.

Climate change was a bigger topic of discussion at this conference than at other demography conferences I've attended in recent years. Brian O'Neil, who does population/climate research at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria was supposed to present his research but was not able to make it to Marrakech at the last minute. His colleague, Leiwen Jiang, presented in his place. Basically what they've found is that aging has a negative effect on carbon emissions while urbanization and smaller households have a positive effect (in this instance, negative means "good" i.e. fewer emissions, and positive means "bad" i.e. more emisisons). They stress that although the number of people on earth does have an effect on emissions, more potent factors are the age structure and lifestyle choices of those people.

The Guttmacher Institute led a training session early on Thursday morning for demographers who wanted to learn to translate their research results into policy recommendations. Session panelists encouraged researchers to communicate their results by starting with the study conclusions and not getting bogged down in methodology, which lawmakers and program managers trust them to execute responsibly. I have to admit that sometimes at these conferences I wish demographers would spend more time presenting their results than their methods for the same reason. Their papers are usually available for download for those who wish to delve deeper into the study methods they used.

A few sessions focused on the demographic consequences of HIV/AIDS. Lori Hunter, who edits the journal Population and Environment, found that families in South Africa who have experienced the death of a family member due to AIDS were negatively affected in terms of food security. One person she talked to actually said, "Locusts are our new beef." Losing an adult in a family of dependents has severe destabilizing effects, both socially and economically.

Another researcher found that female infidelity in Africa might be more widespread than previously believed, based on the high number of couples in which only the woman was infected with HIV. The somewhat counterintuitive results also suggest that girls who attend school are at higher risk of contracting HIV because they are away from their families and experience more independence than girls who stay home.

Joseph Potter from the University of Texas-Austin presented a very interesting study of women in El Paso, TX who use the contraceptive pill. Those who traveled across the border to Mexico to buy pills over the counter for about $5 per pack had much lower discontinuation rates than women who got one pack at a time at the El Paso clinic for free. Only when women were given six packs or more at the clinic did their discontinuation rates drop to the level of the women who bought them at Mexican pharmacies. These results imply that increasing ease of accessibility (no clinic appointment) and providing multiple months of protection at a time increase the continuation rates of pill users.

A researcher from the American University in Cairo studied the fertility differences between Morocco and Egypt. She asked the question "Why is fertility decline faster in Morocco when Egypt has a higher Human Development Index?" She found that although desired fertility is higher in Morocco, later marriage and longer birth intervals make actual fertility lower. The fertility rate of educated women in Morocco is lower than equally educated women in Egypt.

As usual, the most valuable parts of being at this huge conference were the side conversations I had with people at lunch and during coffee breaks. I made a lot of new professional alliances and reinforced existing ones for Population Connection. I know that our info table also helped spread the word about our unique and important work. By the end of the week, only a few copies of The Reporter remained in my booth--everything else had been taken.

The next IUSSP conference will be in four years, location as yet undecided. I am already looking forward to it and will make sure to stock my table more heavily with the fun supplies that conference-goers like to take home: pens, tote bags, stickers, etc. For a serious bunch of researchers, they sure do like their freebies.