Fighting for Equitable Reproductive Health Care: World Population Day—July 11, 2021

By Sarah Edmonds and Heather F. McClintock, PhD

World Population Day was established on July 11, 1987 by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme to acknowledge that the world’s population had reached 5 billion people. In current times, the population increases by approximately 227,000 people a day. An aim of World Population Day has been to highlight issues related to population growth such as exacerbating food and water shortages, reducing our ability to combat climate change, a continuation of intergenerational poverty, and—as this year’s World Population Day theme stresses—a lack of access to reproductive health care. Though the global population continues to rise, specific areas across the globe are noticing sharply reduced fertility rates that has led to concerns about the economic strain of a reduced national and global population and has damaged the socio-cultural pride that often accompanies population growth. Concerns over either increased and decreased population growth (depending on geographic area) have, in the past, led governments to enact dangerous and unethical population-based policy interventions. These population-based interventions often infringe on the human right to life and bodily autonomy. During this past World Population Day, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) took the opportunity to urge restraint before nations enact such reactionary measures.

The right to bodily autonomy is one that has, historically, been provided only to select groups across the globe. Women, in particular, are still fighting for the ability to make decisions about their own health, livelihoods, and futures. The COVID-19 panedmic has caused dangerous setbacks regarding women-based public health programs such as initiatives to stop female genital mutilation and to improve reproductive education and health in high-risk communities. Even before this, reproductive rates across the globe have been fluctuating with 23 nations—including Spain and Japan—expected to halve their total population in less than 80 years.

As the pandemic continues, there should be a greater focus on increasing and directing resources towards programs and interventions that protect family planning services, reproductive health and education services, and women’s health and safety organizations. Differing attitudes towards women as well as towards individuals who fall outside of the male/female binary have caused setbacks in global gender-equality initiatives. That is why organizations such as the UNFP, the Commission on the State of Women, and the International Women’s Health Coalition are vital to ensuring that reconstruction after COVID-19 proceeds equitably so that people of all genders receive access to sustainable quality healthcare and health safety. We must protect, rebuild, and improve the quality of life and safety of women, persons who are gender noncomforming, and children across the globe far before acting on any reactionary concern about a declining population. 

A femme-presenting hand squeezes a globe stress ball while the individual donates blood.

Reflecting on Barriers to Blood Donation

By Sarah Edmonds and Heather F. McClintock

As we look back on the month of June, which has played host to World Blood Donor Day, Pride Month in the USA, and an unrelenting continuation of COVID-19 and its variants, the time has never been better to discuss the need for and barriers to high rates of blood donation worldwide.

In order to maintain safety procedures during this pandemic, blood drives and many blood donation services were cancelled; this, paired with increased hospitalization rates and the investigation of plasma treatments for COVID-19 led to one of the worst global blood shortages in recent history. In some countries, blood donation rates dropped by a massive 40%. Based on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations, men who had sex with other men (MSM) within the past year were ineligible to donate and were required to stay celibate for at least a year to regain eligibility. However, on April 3, 2020 due to the deteriorating blood supply, as well as pressure from the media and various advocacy organizations, the FDA shortened the blood donation deferral period for MSM from 1 year to 3 months. With the new 3 month deferral period many MSM sought to donate blood in the United States. However, despite the changed FDA recommendations, many MSM were turned away from donating blood based on their sexual practices even though they were legally within their bounds to do so in the United States. 

Other nations, such as Italy and Spain, determine risk and deferments based on self-reported questionnaires which, depending on results, may completely ban individuals from ever donating blood at all. In contrast, Argentina implemented in 2015 a “gender neutral” risk-based approach that did not enforce policies based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This policy demonstrated no significant difference in the prevalence of HIV in spite of a substantial increase in the number of donors. This finding provides substantive evidence that an inclusive blood donor policy does not result in an increased risk of HIV in the blood supply.

Reevaluating the processes and biases in the process of screening blood donors in the United States would potentially allow for countless willing and healthy donors—who would under current policies be turned away—to help fight the ongoing blood shortage. Many organizations such as the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors and the HIV Medicine Association have called for a complete rescission of the deferral period. Park et al. proposed an eligibility screening format that involves an individual risk-based screening protocol. This approach would not exclude donors based on gender identity or sexual orientation. This approach supports the equitable treatment of marginalized community members as blood donors while maintaining health and safety outcomes. 

As was the theme with the June 14th World Blood Donor Day, giving blood keeps the world beating. By making blood donation sites more abundant, more accessible, and more mobile we can be sure to see a marked increase in willing donors. Above all, we can and must make blood donation accessible and viable (with equitable access regardless of sexual orientation) for as many willing unpaid donors as possible in order to fight this blood shortage and to continue saving lives in the future.

Read the latest issue of our newsletter – Section Connection!

Dear friends and colleagues,

We are proud to share with you the latest issue of our newsletter, Section Connection.

Please click here to access our latest issue of Section Connection: http://bit.ly/SectionConnection16

We hope you continue to stay connected and involved with our section,
Jean Armas, Heather de Vries McClintock, and Sarah Edmonds
The IH Section Communications Team

Nominate your colleagues for an IH Section Award, Deadline June 6th

Dear APHA International Health Section members,

It is time again to solicit your nominations for awards to be presented at the next annual APHA convention, this October 24-27, 2021, in Denver, Colorado, and online. The deadline for submission of nominations is Sunday, June 6, 2021, 11:59 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time). This is how we can recognize our colleagues who have made significant contributions to international health and our Section. The IH Section has five award categories, descriptions and award criteria being described below:

1. Carl Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in International Health
2. Gordon-Wyon Award for Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology and Practice
3. Mid-Career Award in International Health
4. Distinguished Section Service Award
5. Young Professional Award

We encourage you to think about who in APHA and our Section might merit public recognition through an award. It really doesn’t take a long time to nominate someone. We ask for only a page or so that describes how the nominee meets the award criteria, plus the C.V. of the proposed awardee. If you have an idea of someone who might merit an award and desire some feedback, or need to verify whether they are APHA or IH Section members, please contact us at ihsection.awards@gmail.com  

Instructions for submitting nominations are found below. You can also access the award descriptions and criteria, along with the names of past awardees as compiled by IH Historian Ray Martin, on the IH website, https://aphaih.org/ih-section-awards-2/

The IH Section Awards Committee consists of Jean Armas, Paul Freeman, Omar Khan, Ray Martin, Henry Perry, Hallie Pritchard, Gopal Sankaran, Rose Schneider, Sarah Shannon, Curtiss Swezy, Laura Altobelli, and Mini Murthy, IH Section Chair ex officio.

Sincerely,


Laura Altobelli, IH Awards Committee Chair
American Public Health Association
International Health Section

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Annual Awards Guidance

The International Health (IH) Section recognizes each year outstanding individuals who have contributed in an important way to the field of international health and/or to the IH Section. Guidance is provided here on the process and criteria for selecting the individuals to receive the five major awards:


Carl Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award,
Gordon-Wyon Award for Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology, and Practice,
Mid-Career Award in International Health,
Distinguished Section Service Award,
Young Professional Award

A. Process for award nominations and selection

The Awards Committee of the IH Section is entrusted with the awards process, with collaboration and input from IH Section leadership when needed.


The annual request for nominations for IH Section awards is prepared by the IH Section Awards Committee. This request is sent out to all IH Section members on multiple virtual platforms managed by the IH Section Communications Committee.

A nomination can be made by submitting to ihsection.awards@gmail.com two items: (1) a letter of nomination of no more than two pages that specifies the name of the nominee, the title of the award, and how the nominee meets the specific criteria for the award (listed below); and (2) the nominee’s current curriculum vitae.

All complete nominations are reviewed by the IH Section Awards Committee. The committee members then vote independently on the candidates. The nominee who gets the highest number of votes in the award category is selected to receive the award.

Awardees are honored at the following Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA).

B. Awards Criteria

Carl Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in International Health
The Carl Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award in International Health honors the visionaries and leaders who have shaped or continue to shape the direction of International Health. Carl E. Taylor was the founder of the APHA International Health Section and a pioneer in and global champion of international health in the 20th century. The evaluation criteria for the Lifetime Achievement Award include: (1) Quality, creativity, and innovativeness of the individual’s contributions to the field of international health; (2) Application of the individual’s work to international health practice (as opposed to primarily theoretical value); (3) The individual’s contributions as a leader, visionary, and role model in international health; and (4) Current membership in APHA, and preferably membership in the IH Section.

Gordon-Wyon Award for Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology, and Practice
The Gordon-Wyon Award for Community-Oriented Public Health, Epidemiology, and Practice recognizes outstanding achievement in international community-oriented public health, epidemiology, and/or practice. This award was established in 2006 by the IH Section. John Gordon and John Wyon were pioneer epidemiologists and mentors in this field, so encouraging and recognizing others in this field is one important way of remembering and honoring them. The evaluation criteria include: (1) Outstanding achievement in international community-oriented public health, epidemiology, and/or practice; (2) Demonstrated creativity in expanding the concepts pertinent to the practice of international community-oriented public health; and (3) Current membership in the APHA IH Section.

Mid-Career Award in International Health
The Mid-Career Award in International Health recognizes an outstanding mid-career professional in the IH Section. Evaluation criteria include: (1) Demonstrated achievement and commitment to international health promotion and development over a suggested period of seven to 20 years; (2) Demonstrated creativity in expanding the concepts pertinent to the practice of public health with an international focus; and (3) Current membership in the APHA IH Section.

Distinguished Section Service Award
The Distinguished Section Service Award honors outstanding service to the IH Section. The evaluation criteria include: (1) Dedication to the IH Section mission and goals as demonstrated by exceptional contribution to its activities; (2) Serving in IH Section elected positions or chairing its committees with outstanding or unusual effort and achievements; (3) Excellence in team work with peers in the IH Section and the APHA; and (4) Current membership in the APHA IH Section.

Young Professional Award
The International Health Section recognizes the important contribution of young professionals for their leadership, innovation, and demonstrated contribution to international health with its annual Young Professional Award instituted in 2018. The evaluation criteria include: (1) Demonstrated contribution to the field of international health through leadership, innovation, and impactful practice; (2) Age younger than 35 years at the time of application; and (3) Current membership in the APHA IH Section.


– Updated and approved by the IH Section Awards Committee, April 2021

Public health professionals condemn threats to health for Palestinians

By Cindy Sousa, International Health Section

The Palestine Health Justice Working Group, a committee of the American Public Health Association’s International Health (APHA-IH) Section, issued a statement last week focused on health justice for Palestinians. In it, they went beyond calling for a cease-fire to condemning ongoing settler-colonial violence and oppression by the Israeli government against Palestinians. The statement launched on Wednesday, May 19. Within 24 hours, they had 350 signatures from public health professionals across the globe (public health workers, social workers, physicians, nurses, medical students, and researchers, among others). By Saturday, May 22, this number had risen to 500 supporters.

To read the full text of their statement and to sign on: click here.

Pharmacy and Entrance to UNRWA Nuseirat Health Clinic, Gaza Strip, 2015. Photo by Ron J Smith.

Over the past month, Palestinians have seen spiraling violence at the hands of Israeli military forces, police, and private mobs. But the attacks of last week – following Palestinian resistance to the eviction of Palestinians in the neighborhood of Shiekh Jarrah by Israelis – were the worst in years. Between May 10 and May 21, the Israeli military killed at least 230 Palestinians in Gaza, including 66 children; injured almost 2,000; and temporarily displaced more than 77,000. In the West Bank, Israeli forces killed 27 Palestinians and injured 6,794 more. Israel destroyed or damaged six hospitals and nine healthcare centers in Gaza, including a clinic that housed its only coronavirus testing lab, and killed two of the most prominent physicians in Gaza: Dr Ayman Abu Auf, head of the internal medicine department and Coronavirus response at Gaza’s largest hospital al-Shifa and Dr. Mo’in Ahmad al-Aloul, one of the few neurologists in Gaza.

The violence has taken an extreme toll on Palestinians, a community already suffering from hostility, such that on April 27 of this year, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning Israeli authorities for “crimes of apartheid and persecution.” Israel has undermined Palestine’s public health system for decades, through blockades and direct attacks. These efforts have undermined efforts at containing COVID 19.   Vaccine access disparity reached such a critical point that many described it as institutionalized discrimination and as medical apartheid. These practices are especially damaging when viewed within the framework of ongoing occupation and deliberate gutting of the Palestinian health-sector under Israeli settler-colonial rule. On this point, Osama Tanous, a pediatrician and volunteer with the mobile clinic of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel in Gaza, described the larger context of the most recent attacks on Gaza, pointing out, “Healthcare infrastructure in Gaza was already heavily damaged by decades of Israeli de-development and siege. Now it has suffered additional, direct attacks on facilities and workforce.”

While the group was heartened last week by the news of cease-fire, their statement called for more, including independent investigations into the short- and long-term physical and mental health implications of the actions of the Israeli government. They are especially concerned about ongoing attacks on civilians, healthcare, and healthcare workers, which are in clear violation of international law and the ethics of public health. Palestine Health Justice Working Group also emphasizes that their statement – like their ongoing work – is not just about the most recent events, but about decades of violence and oppression against Palestinians. Group co-chair and global health scholar Yara Asi, asserted, “While our statement addressed the immediate need for a lasting ceasefire, this statement goes further, to situate the violence in its historical context. The public health community is very much seeing the need to act on our professional ethics to promote ongoing justice in Palestine and Israel – not just for this week, but for the long-term.”

Regarding the need to situate the violence of last week within a larger context, last week human rights experts from the United Nations called for an International Criminal Court investigation into not only the most recent Israeli attacks against civilians and healthcare facilities, but also wide-spread evictions and illegal transfer of Palestinians by Israelis, along with the ongoing constraints on Palestinian housing, education, and freedom of movement.

In support of the statement, Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian physician trained in emergency medicine who has been working with Palestinian doctors for four decades, said, “I’m a medical doctor. I’m trained to treat root causes of suffering, not just symptoms. The Israeli occupation, colonization of Palestine, and brutal apartheid that underlies the health crisis in Palestine must end.”

The majority of signatories are from the United States, with others signing from the UK, Egypt, Canada, Spain, Israel, and Palestine. Dr. Yasser Abu-Jamei, a psychiatrist in Palestine and head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, said, “This statement sends a positive message to all supporters of the Palestinian struggle. We see justice getting closer and closer. No matter how difficult life is for us now, our dignity and our rights to health and to freedom are increasingly recognized, in this case, as the statement demonstrates, by a growing public health community concerned with justice for Palestine.”

The statement by the APHA-IH working group joins with at least four other statements issued by health professionals aimed at addressing not only immediate fatalities, but also the health harms of the ongoing Israeli settler-colonial project in Palestine. Statements were also issued by People’s Health Movement; Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Health Advisory Council; Equal Health’s Campaign Against Racism; and a group of Canadian Health Workers. Other professional groups have issued calls, including a wide-ranging group of scholars; The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA); Middle East Studies Association; the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association; and others.

Rachel Rubin, another co-chair of the Palestine Health Justice Working Group, who is also on the steering committee for the JVP Health Advisory Council, notes, “What we have seen this May is an increasingly urgent insistence that justice in Palestine is a compelling health issue, one that requires us to act on our ethical imperatives to promote freedom and oppose all forms of violence including settler-colonial control of Palestine.”

It was exactly this sentiment that led to the formation of APHA’s International Health Section Palestine Health Justice Working Group several years ago. The working group began as a network formed within the International Health Section to pass an APHA policy statement on the health harms of Israeli settler-colonial violence and oppression in Palestine. Serving as a forum for interaction, support, information exchange, and activism, the group works to raise consciousness about the issue among APHA members and other health professionals – through education at the APHA annual meeting and other venues, and through promoting the work and leadership of Palestinian health professionals.

As an organized body within APHA focused on health justice in Palestine, The Palestine Health Justice Working Group works not only externally, but also within APHA to pressure the organization to use our collective voice, as one of the leading global public health organizations, to voice opposition to Israel’s continual assaults on Palestinian health and freedom, as APHA has in contexts of Iran (#277718), Iraq (#200617), South Africa (#9122), Nicaragua (#8306), Yemen (LB19-13), and other locations.

The group’s statement aligns with several APHA resolutions, which have held that the prevention of genocide (#200030), the health effects of militarism (#8531), the health of refugees (#8531), law enforcement violence (#201811), attacks on healthcare workers (#201910), and health within armed conflict and war (#20095) are public health matters deserving of our attention and action. The statement also pushes APHA itself, as the Governing Council has–in four separate attempts (2008, 2009, 2012 and 2013)–failed to pass proposed resolutions expressing concern about how the Israeli occupation has undermined the health of Palestinians.

Site of the Wafa Rehabilitation Hospital, Gaza Strip. Destroyed in Israeli bombing raid July 23rd, 2014. Photo by Ron J Smith.

“People’s views are changing,” says Amy Hagopian, long-time section member and 2018 recipient of the section’s Victor Sidel and Barry Levy Award for Peace, who co-authored these resolutions, “APHA members are beginning to see through the rhetorical devices used to shut down debate on Palestine. This topic scares people because they think it’s too complicated, or they don’t want to be accused of being anti-Semitic, or the don’t see the connection to public health.  Maybe the meaningful conversation about Black Lives and police violence in the U.S. over the last year has helped people connect some dots. The widespread support for this statement – and others like it – demonstrate that APHA could have this conversation in a respectful way, and step up to advocate for health justice for Palestinians.”  

To get involved, people can join our Palestine Health Justice Working Group meetings at APHA’s annual meeting each year, or send a message to apha-palestine-health-justice-working-group@googlegroups.com. Please be sure to attend their invited session at APHA’s 2021 Annual Meeting: Sovereignty as a core determinant of health: The imperative for both social connection and independence, as well as other sessions that will be held on Palestinian health justice.