Focus on Reproductive Health
An innovative Internet initiative based at the Harvard School of Public Health is giving women in Latin America around the world access to critical information about their bodies and a voice in the global debate about reproductive health and rights.
The Global Reproductive Health Forum at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/healthnet supports a number of easy-to-access, interactive information services, including e-mail discussion groups, electronic journals, and on-line conferences
In addition, GRHF provides a free gateway to an extensive archive of on-line information about: gender issues, reproductive rights, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, abortion, population and family planning issues, and maternal health.
The site is designed for use by nongovernmental organizations, government officials, activists, academic researchers, and others interested in the field of reproductive health.
Unlike most on-line resources, GRHF specifically solicits participation by women, particularly from underserved populations and developing countries. The project is organizing new networks Latin America, South Asia, and West Africa, and GRHF staff is training women in these regions to use Internet technology constructively.
“The capacity for women from developing countries to be active participants in the new electronic media is an important way to insure that their voices are heard and interests served in the debate about their health and bodies,” says Orit Halpern, project manager of the GRHF. “The emerging electronic media, particularly the Internet, have become global forums in which the political, social, and economic dimensions of women’s health are being debated and resolved.”
Two research/project coordinators specialize in Latin America and Latino/as. Andrea Acevedo, a HSPH master of science student, has conducted research in the United States and in Mexico; her current interests concern HIV/AIDS in Latinos/as. Arachu Castro, a HSPH master of public health student, has done research over the past decade in reproductive health issues in Europe, Latin America, and among the Latina population in the United States.
With links to thousands of sites related to reproductive health on the World Wide Web, the GRHF enables users to quickly navigate the vast information resources of the Internet. The Forum staff monitors the site for accuracy and reliability and continually update all the information links.
Through the GRHF, users can access: In-depth discussions about contraceptive options for women, ethics discussion on HIV/AIDS treatment regimens for women in developing countries, human rights documents relating to women, listserves on reproductive health and rights, and TeenZone, a venue specifically designed for adolescents that provides information and links to other sites about health and sexuality.
Helping Developing Countries Use the Internet
One of GRHF’s goals is to break down some barriers against the use of technology and extend the Internet’s power to people in developing countries. In partnership with regional Internet service providers, GRHF helps women’s organizations to get on-line and trains them to use the Internet effectively.
GRHF staff also are developing regional networks in Latin America, South Asia, and West Africa to facilitate the transfer of information and technology. In addition, GRHF provides its journals and other information services in an easy-to-access, email-based format.
GRHF’s Searchable Library enables users to locate agencies working on reproductive health and population issues around the world and to quickly search the site’s extensive network of links by subject or keyword.
The site is currently available in English and Spanish, with plans to expand the language base. The Global Reproductive Health Forum is based at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Population and International Health, under the leadership of Michael Reich, an expert on health policy-making in the developing world.
“Internet-based technologies have great potential to help people participate in the economy, get educated, and access information and services that are vital to their well-being,” says Reich. “In doing so, they have a liberalizing and liberating impact on individuals, communities, and societies.”
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Anita Harris is a freelance writer based in Cambridge
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