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Article

Ndola Prata and Karen Weidert

Adolescence, spanning 10 to 19 years of age, begins with biological changes while transitioning from a social status of a child to an adult. For millions of adolescents in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), this is a period of exposure to vulnerabilities and risks related to sexual and reproductive health (SRH), compounded by challenges in having their SHR needs met. Globally, adolescent sexual and reproductive ill-health disease burden is concentrated in LMICs, with sexually transmitted infections and complications from pregnancy and childbirth accounting for the majority of the burden. Adolescents around the world are using their voices to champion access to high-quality, comprehensive SRH information and services. Thus, it is imperative that adolescents’ SRH and rights be reinforced and that investments in services be prioritized.

Article

Lillian Abracinskas and Santiago Puyol

As time goes by, the world experiences advances and setbacks in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. But new challenges appear in terms of professional performance and implementation of services created by newer laws and policies. The development of new ethical frames in dialogue with disputed value systems is one of the main obstacles to ensuring universal access and comprehensive services to guarantee the exercise of these rights. Since 2002, Uruguay has been one of the few countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that has achieved significant advances regarding sexual and reproductive rights by recognizing them as human rights. The passage of several laws has resulted in the implementation of programs in SRHS and legal abortion as being considered mandatory for the National Health System. The follow-up and monitoring of this process by the Observatory of Mujer y Salud en Uruguay (MYSU) has demonstrated how changes in the legal framework led to a new stage for health-care providers, politicians, and decision makers and also for the social movement that has historically advocated for this agenda, all now facing new problems and challenges—some of which are completely unexpected. The high prevalence of conscientious objection exercised by physicians and OB/GYNs in refusing the provision of care in SRHS is one of the ethical dilemmas that needs to be discussed to innovate solutions to the problems and promote best practices from a gender equity and human rights paradigm.

Article

Amira M. Khan, Zohra S. Lassi, and Zulfiqar A. Bhutta

Nearly 80% of the world’s population lives in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and these regions bear the greatest burden of maternal, neonatal, and child mortality, with most of the deaths occurring at home. Much of global maternal and child mortality is attributable to easily preventable and treatable conditions. However, the challenge lies in reaching the most vulnerable communities, especially the rural populations, making it imperative that maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) interventions focus on communities in tandem with facility-based strategies. There is widespread consensus that delivering effective primary health care (PHC) interventions through the continuum of care, starting from pregnancy to delivery and then to the newborn, infant, and the young child, is an integral component of health strategies in high-, middle- and low-income settings. Despite gaps in research, several effective community-based PHC approaches have been proven to impact MNCH positively. Implementation of these strategies is needed at scale in LMICs and in partnership with all stakeholders including the public and private sector. Community-based PHC, operating on the principles of community engagement and community mobilization, is now more critical than ever. Further robust studies are needed to evaluate certain strategies of community-based PHC and their impact on maternal and child health outcomes, such as the use of mobile technology and social franchises. Recognition of community health workers (CHWs) as a formal cadre and the integration of community-based health services within PHC are vital in strengthening efforts to impact maternal, neonatal, and child health outcomes positively. However, despite the importance of community-based PHC for MNCH in LMICs, the existence of a strong health system and skilled workforce is central to achieving positive health outcomes in these regions.

Article

Ine Vanwesenbeeck

Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is increasingly accepted as the most preferred way of structurally enhancing young peoples’ sexual and reproductive well-being. A historical development can be seen from “conventional,” health-based programs to empowerment-directed, rights-based approaches. Notably the latter have an enormous potential to enable young people to develop accurate and age-appropriate sexual knowledge, attitudes, skills, intentions, and behaviors that contribute to safe, healthy, positive, and gender-equitable relationships. There is ample evidence of program effectiveness, provided basic principles are adhered to in terms of content (e.g., adoption of a broad curriculum, including gender and rights as core elements) and delivery (e.g., learner centeredness). Additional and crucial levers of success are appropriate teacher training, the availability of sexual health services and supplies, and an altogether enabling (school, cultural, and political) context. CSE’s potential extends far beyond individual sexual health outcomes toward, for instance, school social climates and countries’ socioeconomic development. CSE is gaining worldwide political commitment, but a huge gap remains between political frameworks and actual implementation. For CSE to reach scale and its full potential, multicomponent approaches are called for that also address social, ideological, and infrastructural barriers on international, national, and local levels. CSE is a work never done. Current unfinished business comprises, among others, fighting persevering opposition, advancing equitable international cooperation, and realizing ongoing innovation in specific content, delivery, and research-methodological areas.

Article

Ralph J. DiClemente and Nihari Patel

At the end of 2016, there were approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide with 1.6 million people being newly infected. In the same year, 1 million people died from HIV-related causes globally. The vast prevalence of HIV calls for an urgent need to develop and implement prevention programs aimed at reducing risk behaviors. Bronfenbrenner’s socio-ecological model provides an organizing framework to discuss HIV prevention interventions implemented at the individual, relational, community, and societal level. Historically, many interventions in the field of public health have targeted the individual level. Individual-level interventions promote behavior change by enhancing HIV knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs and by motivating the adoption of preventative behaviors. Relational-level interventions focus on behavior change by using peers, partners, or family members to encourage HIV-preventative practices. At the community-level, prevention interventions aim to reduce HIV vulnerability by changing HIV-risk behaviors within schools, workplaces, or neighborhoods. Lastly, societal interventions attempt to change policies and laws to enable HIV-preventative practices. While previous interventions implemented in each of these domains have proven to be effective, a multipronged approach to HIV prevention is needed such that it tackles the complex interplay between the individual and their social and physical environment. Ideally, a multipronged intervention strategy would consist of interventions at different levels that complement each other to synergistically reinforce risk reduction while simultaneously creating an environment that promotes behavior change. Multilevel interventions provide a promising avenue for researchers and program developers to consider all levels of influences on an individual’s behavior and design a comprehensive HIV risk-reduction program.

Article

Marie Thoma, Carie Cox, Jasmine Fledderjohann, and Rudolph Kantum Adageba

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Global Public Health. Please check back later for the full article. Infertility remains a neglected area in sexual and reproductive health, yet its consequences are staggering. Infertility is estimated to impact about 15% (estimates range from 48 million to 180 million) of couples of reproductive age worldwide. It is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes, financial distress, severe social stigma, increased risk of domestic abuse, and marital instability. While men and women are equally likely to be infertile, women often bear the societal burden of infertility, particularly in societies where a woman’s identity and social value is closely tied to her ability to bear children. Despite these consequences, disparities in access to infertility treatment between low- and high-income populations persist, given the high cost and limited geographic availability of diagnostic services and assisted reproductive technologies. In addition, a significant proportion of infertility arises from preventable factors, such as smoking, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy-related infection or unsafe abortion, and environmental contaminants. Accordingly, programs that address the equitable prevention and treatment of infertility are not only in keeping with a reproductive rights perspective, but can also improve public health. However, progress on infertility as a global concern in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights is stymied by challenges in understanding the global epidemiology of infertility, including its causes and determinants, barriers to accessing quality infertility care, and a lack of political will and attention to this issue. Tracking and measurement of infertility is highly complex, resulting in considerable ambiguity about its prevalence and stratification of reproduction globally. A renewed global focus on infertility epidemiology, risk factors, and access to and receipt of quality of care will support individuals in trying to reach their desired number and spacing of children and improve overall health and well-being.

Article

Michael T. Mbizvo and Tendai M. Chiware

Male reproductive function entails complex processes, involving coordinated interactions between molecular structures within the gonadal and hormonal pathways, tightly regulated by the hypothalamic–pituitary gonadal axis. Studies in men and animal models continue to unravel these processes from embryonic urogenital development to gonadal and urogenital ducts function. The hypothalamic decapeptide gonadotropin-releasing hormone is released into the hypophyseal portal circulation in a pulsatile fashion. It acts on the gonadotropes to produce the gonadotropins, the main trophic hormones acting on the testis to regulate sperm production. This endocrine control is complemented by paracrine and autocrine regulation arising from the testis, where germ cells originate, modulated by growth factors and local regulators arising within the testis. The process of spermatogenesis, originating in seminiferous tubules, is characterized by stem cell proliferation and differentiation, meiotic divisions, expression of transcriptional regulators, through to morphological changes which include cytoplasm reorganization and flagellum development. Metabolic processes and signal transduction pathways facilitate the functional motion and transport of sperm to the site of fertilization. The normal sperm structure or morphology acquired during spermatogenesis, epididymal maturation, sperm capacitation including motility, and subsequent acrosome reaction are all critical events in the acquisition of sperm fertilizing ability. Generation of the male gamete is assured through adequate gonadal function, involving complex differentiation processes and regulation, during spermiogenesis and spermatogenesis. Sperm functional changes are acquired during epididymal transit, and functional motion is maintained in the female reproductive tract, involving activation of signaling processes and transduction pathways. Infertility can arise in the male, from spermatogenic failure, sperm functional quality, obstruction and other factors, but causes remain unknown in a large proportion of affected men. Semen analysis, complemented by the clinical picture, remains the mainstay of male infertility investigation. Assisted reproductive technology has proved useful in instances where the cause is not treatable. Complications from sexually transmitted infections could lead to male infertility, by impairing sperm quality, production, or transport through the reproductive tract. Male fecundity denotes the biological capacity of men to reproduce, based on ability to ejaculate normal sperm. Lifestyle, environmental, and endocrine disruptors have been implicated in reduced male fecundity. Interactions between vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological factors confer normal sexual function in men. Nocturnal erections begin in early puberty, occurring with REM sleep. Sexual health is an integral part of sexual and reproductive health, while sexual dysfunction, in various forms, is also experienced by some men. Methods of contraception available to men are few, and underused. They include condoms and vasectomy. Enhanced knowledge of male reproductive function and underlying physiological mechanisms, including sperm transit to fertilization, can be catalytic in improvements in assisted reproductive technologies, male infertility diagnosis and treatment, and development of contraceptives for men. The article reviews the processes associated with male reproductive function, dysfunction, physiological processes and infertility, fecundity, approaches to male contraception, and sexual health. It further alludes to knowledge gaps, with a view to spur further research impetus towards advancing sexual and reproductive health in the human male.

Article

Roger Shrimpton

Malnutrition is caused by consuming a diet with either too little and/or too much of one or more nutrients, such that the body malfunctions. These nutrients can be the macronutrients, including proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that provide the body with its building blocks and energy, or the micronutrients including vitamins and minerals, that help the body to function. Infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, can also cause malnutrition through decreased nutrient absorption, decreased intake of food, increased metabolic requirements, and direct nutrient loss. A double burden of malnutrition (both overnutrition and undernutrition) often occurs across the life course of individuals and can also coexist in the same communities and even the same households. While about a quarter of the world’s children are stunted, due to both maternal and young child undernutrition, overweight and obesity affects about one in three adults and one in ten children. Anemia, most commonly due to iron deficiency, is also affecting about a third of women of reproductive age and almost half of preschool children. Around 90% of nations have a serious burden of either two or three of these different forms of malnutrition. Malnutrition is one of the principal and growing causes of global disease and mortality, affecting at least half of the world’s inhabitants. Programs for tackling maternal and child undernutrition have gained impetus in the last decade with a consensus developing around a package of effective interventions. The nutrition-specific interventions, mostly delivered through the health sector, are directed at immediate levels of causality, while nutrition-sensitive interventions, directed at the underlying and basic levels of causality are delivered through other sectors such as agriculture, education, social welfare, as well as water and sanitation. Less consensus exists around the interventions needed to reduce overnutrition and the associated non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease. Prevention is certainly better than cure, however, and creating enabling environments for healthy food choices seems to be the most promising approach. Achieving “healthy diets for all,” by reducing consumption of meat and ultra-processed foods, as well as increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables, would help control rising rates of obesity and reduce NCD mortality. Adopting such healthy diets would also greatly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the agriculture sector is responsible for producing a third of emissions, and a reduction on livestock farming would contribute to reducing global warming. Public health nutrition capacity to manage such nutrition programs is still widely lacking, however, and much still needs to be done to improve these programs and their governance.

Article

Chi Chiung Grace Chen and René Génadry

Obstetric fistula (OF) is a condition that remains prevalent in non-industrialized nations, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia where proper and timely obstetrical care is inaccessible, unavailable, or inadequate. The reasons for the delay vary from country to country where poverty remains a common thread, and understanding the many factors leading to the development of OF is critical in preventing this scourge that has been all but eliminated in industrialized nations. Preventive measures can be effective when developed in conjunction with local resources and expertise and should include patient education and empowerment in addition to educating and equipping healthcare providers. In the absence of such measures, patients develop an « obstructed labor injury complex » involving the genital, urinary, and gastrointestinal tracts. Many troublesome health consequences arise from this complex, including skin lesions from the caustic effects of urine, endocrine abnormalities such as amenorrhea and infertility, neuropsychological consequences such as depression and suicide, and musculoskeletal impairments such as foot drop and contractures. Globally, evidence-based interventions are needed to address the debilitating and persistent medical, psychological, and social effects of this condition on its sufferers. While surgery offers the amelioration of symptoms, many patients may not have access to such care due to lack of funds, knowledge of surgical options, or availability of surgical facility. Even after successful repair of the fistula, patients may still suffer from persistent incontinence, stigma, and socio-economic hardship requiring special programs for support, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Additionally, the patients who are deemed inoperable require special counseling and care. Consensus is needed on standardizing care and outcome measures to improve the quality of care and to evaluate programs directed toward prevention that will render this condition obsolete.

Article

Ana Luiza Vilela Borges, Christiane Borges do Nascimento Chofakian, and Ana Paula Sayuri Sato

The focus on non-sexually transmitted infections during pregnancy is relevant, as they are one of the main causes of fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality in many regions of the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries, respecting no national boundaries. While their possible vertical transmission may lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes, congenital rubella syndrome, measles, mumps, varicella, influenza, Zika virus, dengue, malaria, and toxoplasmosis are all preventable by measures such as vector control or improvement in sanitation, education, and socioeconomic status. Some are likewise preventable by specific vaccines already available, which can be administered in the first years of childhood. A package for intervention also includes adequate preconception care, routine antenatal screening, diagnosis, and treatment during pregnancy. Non-sexually transmitted diseases during pregnancy have different worldwide distributions and occasionally display as emerging or re-emerging diseases. Their epidemiological and clinical aspects, as well as evidence-based prevention and control measures, are relevant to settings with ongoing transmission or those about to be in vulnerable situations. Non-sexually transmitted infections are major public and global health concerns as potential causes of epidemics or pandemics, with numerous social, economic, and societal impacts..

Article

Colin Binns and Mi Kyung Lee

Breastfeeding is one of the best public health “buys” available for countries at all levels of development. In the first year of life, appropriate infant nutrition (exclusive breastfeeding to around 6 months) reduces infant mortality and hospital admissions by 50% or more. Early life nutrition has important influences, including on childhood illnesses, obesity, cognitive development, hospitalizations, and later chronic disease. Breastfeeding is consistent with the historical cultural practices of all societies, and its benefits of breastfeeding last a lifetime. While the development of infant formula has been of benefit to some infants, its inappropriate promotion has resulted in a decline of breastfeeding, and, as a result, health gains in many countries have not been as great as they could have been. The health benefits of breastfeeding will provide some protection against the effects of climate change, which will cause a decline in potable water supplies and increases in the incidence of some infections. Infant formula production has very high environmental costs, while breastfeeding as well as being the best infant feeding intervention also has very low environmental impact. An important part of the sustainable development agenda must be to promote breastfeeding and its benefits and to reverse the inappropriate promotion and use of infant formula.

Article

Shireen Jejeebhoy, K. G. Santhya, and A. J. Francis Zavier

India has demonstrated its commitment to improving the sexual and reproductive health of its population. Its policy and program environment has shifted from a narrow focus on family planning to a broader orientation that stresses sexual and reproductive health and the exercise of rights. Significant strides have been made. The total fertility rate is 2.2 (2015–2016) and has reached replacement level in 18 of its 29 states. The age structure places the country in the advantageous position of being able to reap the demographic dividend. Maternal, neonatal, and perinatal mortality have declined, child marriage has declined steeply, contraceptive use and skilled attendance at delivery have increased, and HIV prevalence estimates suggest that the situation is not as dire as assumed earlier. Yet there is a long way to go. Notwithstanding impressive improvements, pregnancy-related outcomes, both in terms of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, remain unacceptably high. Postpartum care eludes many women. Contraceptive practice patterns reflect a continued focus on female sterilization, limited use of male methods, limited use of non-terminal methods, and persisting unmet need. The overwhelming majority of abortions take place outside of legally sanctioned provider and facility structures. Over one-quarter of young women continues to marry in childhood. Comprehensive sexuality education reaches few adolescents, and in general, sexual and reproductive health promoting information needs are poorly met. Access to and quality of services, as well as the exercise of informed choice are far from optimal. Inequities are widespread, and certain geographies, as well as the poor, the rural, the young, and the socially excluded are notably disadvantaged. Moving forward and, in particular, achieving national goals and SDGs 3 and 5 require multi-pronged efforts to accelerate the pace of change in all of these dimensions of health and rights.