Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP):Protecting women and those pregnant in developing countries as their global friends
Michiyo Ono, chief of PR group
This month's Close UP features the Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP), a nongovernmental organization offering international assistance to pregnant women in developing countries. In postwar Japan, the mortality rate of pregnant mothers and babies dramatically declined as the understanding of family planning and maternity/child health was promoted among people during the process of national recovery. To respond to a demand by the international community to share the country's experience and knowledge in maternity health with other parts of the world, JOICFP was established in 1968 and since then has been actively providing grass-root level support to protect women and pregnant mothers in developing countries in respect of local people's independence. This time, we asked Michiyo Ono, chief of PR group of JOICFP, to answer our questions about the organization's activities.
Please tell us about current situations surrounding pregnant women in developing counties.
Today, nearly 400,000 women in the world lose their lives because of their pregnancy or childbirth. In developing countries, the number of hospitals, doctors, and midwives is short, and many women therefore deliver babies at home without the presence of specialists. Not a small number of women end up dying after having troubles and not being able to reach a doctor. Many women also die after suffering from anemia or malnutrition as a result of consecutive, multiple pregnancies, or being forced to take an unsafe abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. JOICFP's goal is to realize the environment for safe childbirth in developing countries and also to make our society a place where reproductive health and rights are protected so that every woman has the freedom to make a choice for her pregnancy and childbirth.
At JOICFP office
Can you help us to better understand reproductive health and rights?

A male health promoter explains to a couple the importance of family planning
Reproductive health is about a state of health for people to live by their own value, in which one's will is respected physically, mentally, and socially for every matter related to sex, reproduction, and childbirth. The basic concept of reproductive rights is that people have the freedom to decide whether or not to have children and if so, when, and how many they have. To promote the idea of reproductive health and rights, it is necessary to promote the understanding of the idea among males. In some parts of developing countries where people still consider having more children to be more honorable, we work not only with women but with men so that they fully understand that it is good for the health of both mothers and babies to space births. People tend to think that because our organization works to assist pregnant women, we only work with women. However, it is one of our important roles to raise awareness among males. In the areas where JOICFP's projects are implemented, the number of children per family is smaller, and age spacing between siblings is longer and is ideally 2 to 4 years, compared to other areas where we are not active. We have seen many men who are proud to be part of the promotion of maternal and child health.
We understand that your projects emphasize that they are mainly driven by local people.

A health promoter explains about HIV/AIDS to a local woman
JOICFP's role is no more than educating people with our know-how. It is local residents who take over and continue activities to protect women and pregnant mothers after we complete our assistance. The center of our activities is, therefore, to foster human resources. Our human resource development is not limited to raising specialists. We educate volunteers as health promoters, for example, who promote the local community's health. After receiving our training, the health promoters visit each of the homes scattered in a community to distribute contraceptives, to teach how to use them, to advocate the importance of maternal checkups, or, when they find any pregnant woman having some health issues, to take her to a doctor. The health promoters are not paid but are proud to be a chosen representative of their own community. They are local icons adored by young people who want to become like them. They ride a recycled bicycle donated from Japan and sometimes give emergency rides to the hospital to those who are going into labor.
So it is often difficult for people just to get to the hospital.

Right. There are not many hospitals and clinics, and transportation to them is often not available either. Some women start labor in the middle of the night and walk along dark trails for 20 to 30 kilometers to get to the closest hospital. Other women go home after only a few hours of delivery by walking for tens of kilometers with a newborn in her arms. We hear cases like these which would never happen in Japan. In fact, many hospitals are not equipped with beds for those delivering babies to stay. To ease this problem, JOICFP has been building inpatient facilities we call Maternity Houses nearby the hospitals. Each Maternity House is for pregnant women who live far away from the hospital or who are at higher risks such as pregnant adolescents to stay and be prepared for the delivery and to rest and recover after the delivery. Another merit is that we can educate these mothers on a wide range of maternal and child health issues while they stay at the house.

So the key is to promote accurate knowledge among people.

A woman receives a family planning service (right) from a health promoter (left) at a club house
Yes. JOICFP has also been building club houses in locations between the hospitals and each community as a place to provide maternal checkups, vaccinations for babies, family planning education, and more. The club house also gives us great opportunities to give various information to mothers visiting the house. The club house does provide material supplies such as underwear for babies and shoes for children, but its main purpose is not to be merely materially supportive but to invite more mothers visiting the house to receive maternal checkups or to educate them so that they know newborns should be in underwear to be protected from cold. By passing on appropriate knowledge to the mothers before and after their delivery of babies, we should be able to protect newborn babies who are at a higher risk of dying from pneumonia or diarrhea. We also hope to extend our educational efforts in diverse ways to reach more men and other family members in addition to pregnant mothers who may find the pregnancy in their family to be an opportunity for enlightenment.
We understand that JOICFP is also working on HIV/AIDS issues in developing countries.

An HIV positive woman and goats provided by the program
Maternal checkups often serve as an opportunity to discover HIV infection among pregnant women, but in many cases those HIV positive mothers are left by their partners after their infection is found, thereby becoming a single mother. They often suffer from prejudice from people around them, which makes it difficult for them to find a job. To support these HIV positive mothers and women, JOICFP runs "Yagi-san (Goat) Project," which provides them with a pair of male and female goats. The goats produce milk for women and their families. Since they reproduce four times a year, the goats may also become a source of income for the family to help them live independently.
It is very unique that supporters to JOICFP's activities are called

We don't find it appropriate to see those women in developing countries with pity. In fact, they are the ones who are positive and give us the best smiles and power when we visit the communities we serve. However, what is so sad is that those women with those sparkling smiles could suddenly be gone not because of sickness but because of their pregnancy or childbirth. We want to keep an equal relationship with them to support each other as friends so that we don't have to lose their smiles. That's why we call our supporters JOICFP friends. Most of the friends are women, but there are a few male members including the one whose wife had a difficult childbirth. His wife and baby were both saved eventually but only because they were in Japan and were given quality medical care. He became our friend because it didn't seem right for him that place you are born on Earth determines the fate of mothers and their babies.

Lastly, please give a message to our readers.
Unfortunately, it is not very well known among people in Japan that a number of women have to face a risk of death at the time of delivering babies. In April and May this year, JOICFP ran the "MODE for Charity 2010" project, which was a promotional event of the White Ribbon campaign for protecting maternal health. The project was held in collaboration with fashion-related businesses and personnel, featuring fashion model Ai Tominaga as a project ambassador and receiving wide support from various fashion magazines for women. And now, active readers of those magazines who were mothers themselves and were inspired by our project have launched their own events to support our goals. We felt assured that people will be empathic and become interested in maternal health issues as long as they are given a chance to learn about them. We would like to continue the "MODE for Charity" and other similar events next year and ahead. We believe these events will serve as a beginning for people to know about the current situations surrounding pregnant mothers and women in the world, and it would be our pleasure if those who come to know about these issues through our events help us expand the circle of empathy by educating some other people around them who do not know the issues yet.

©JOICFP Mode for Charity 2010

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