Health education's impact in Tanzania

Part 3: Dr. Joey Banks on education’s impact on Tanzanian women’s health issues

The reasons women fail to seek prenatal care throughout Africa are complicated and deeply rooted. Even when a woman is educated in Tanzania, Dr. Banks explains, many times myths about family planning outweigh the knowledge they have gained.

“Fertility is so important – and with good reason. So the myth that you may take a pill, a shot, or an implant and be infertile forever can be intimidating to even the most educated woman.”

And religion comes into play in a variety of ways as well. Catholic support agencies provide many charitable services in Africa but also discourage family planning.

“And Muslim families in some instances limit care for women if female doctors are not available,” she says. “Or they wait until the disease has progressed to an advanced state before finally seeking help from a male physician.”

Religious groups that influence Western nations’ governments wind up limiting care to African women, by linking aid money to policy standards addressing family planning or reproductive health education.

Dr. Banks meets women in Ethiopia

Dr. Banks believes education – teaching family planning as well as traditional schooling – for the daughters of the world will make us all better off. “Across the world, it is the Number One way to improve the economic and physical health of a nation.”

When we educate girls and women, we are doing much more than just teaching them about family planning, the benefits of smaller families, and how to prevent disease in their own families, she says.

“We’re also delaying the childbearing age, so that young girls are not being asked to have babies.”

The educational benefits of a young girl completing another grade in school, rather than dropping out to start a family, are substantial. Dr. Banks emphasizes the need for grass-roots efforts: “programs working with African governments to set policies that enable girls to be educated.”

As she works each day in the Arusha clinic, Dr. Banks has high hopes.

First is that each woman she cares for becomes slightly more able to understand the medical facts about family planning and fertility issues. “And second, I really hope that my female residents realize how much they are needed and work to make policy changes in their own governments in the future.”

Next: Reducing maternal mortality with technology

Part 1: Women physicians key to perinatal care in Tanzania

Part 2: A documentary filmmaker’s exploration of ‘safe motherhood’

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