Helping out Humanity

I’m currently working on an MIT IDEAS[1] competition team, working to solve some women’s health issues in the developing world — namely, to help with community education and surgeon training involved with repairing birth complication-related fistula — and I realize that one of the biggest differences between the general populace in developed nations vs. the developing world, is equal access to information.

This particular problem (obstetric fistula) typically occurs when a girl or woman experiences birth complications from an underdeveloped pelvis — generally by being either too young, or malnourished.  Poor access to healthcare usually results in the stillbirth of her baby and a host of health problems for her, including unwanted connections between previously separate compartments of the abdominal cavity — the vagina and the intestines, or bladder, for example, resulting usually not only in incontinence but in ostracism as well.

Fortunately, fistula can generally be repaired with a moderately non-invasive surgery, if only there were more doctors available who could perform the operations — the West no longer trains our own doctors to operate on fistula, as it’s no longer a problem in the developed world.  And that’s why we’re working to solve surgeon training.

However, I’ve been reading a number of articles and interviews on the subject, and I’m realizing, that one of the original sources of the problem is this problem with fistula is that there are still women who don’t realize the connection between sex and pregnancy. That’s infuriating!  How can this equal distribution of information be approached and solved? [2]

[2] — the fistula reference that sparked this blog post



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2 responses to “Helping out Humanity

  1. Well, Margaret Sanger’s theory was to tell people, with pamphlets and by giving classes. She got a lot of backlash from that (I seem to recall she spent some time in jail on obscenity charges) but it eventually became mainstream in her country, about 50 years later, although there’s still controversy. You could try to do the same thing in whatever countries you’re trying to work with, and face the same backlash.

    Possible alternatives include working on technology, politics, and economics to make it harder for companies like Cyber Patrol or the Iranian cellphone companies to implement their controls on access to information. As one example, if there was a computing device that was cheaper than a cell phone (at the time of my Cheap Electronics Dissection Project, this was US$30, but maybe it’s cheaper now) and that provided access to a wide range of information in an uncensorable way, it would make this kind of ignorance harder to enforce.

    (I’m making the assumption that the adults around these girls *do* know about the connection, and are intentionally concealing the truth from them.)

  2. You could consider working on an educational activity for the OLPC — we have an offline version of Wikipedia that we put on every laptop, but nothing particularly targeted at sex education. It’d probably be a frustratingly political thing to try to get done and deployed, but as you point out, the need is great.

    — cjb.