We recently heard from Dr Deirdre Gleeson, the Medical Director of Medwise, Occupational Health Services in Ireland. Dr. Gleeson wrote to us describing her work in Calcutta and her efforts to help empower women living in extremely difficult circumstances. In Dr. Gleeson’s own words…

I travelled to Kolkata (Calcutta) with the charity Almas recently to help at a GP clinic run by the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod. Before I left, the sisters asked me to give a talk on natural family planning to women from the nearby slum. I didn’t really know where to start, so I got in touch with the Natural Family Planning Association of Ireland who directed me to some useful websites and posters to download.

Dr. Gleeson with Women in CalcuttaWhile surfing the internet I came across CycleBeads developed by the Institute of Reproductive Health in the USA. I ordered some of the beads online (www.CycleBeads.com). They were well received by the women in Kolkata as a practical tool for natural family planning based on fertility awareness.

Many of the women who attend the clinic in Kolkata are devout Muslims and artificial methods of birth control are not acceptable to them. In addition, the women love having children and value their fertility highly. The rest of the world is concerned about population control, but these women know that children are their future and hope. I believe that education and better social conditions will lead to a natural reduction in family size rather than pushing against culture, nature and creed by promoting artificial contraceptives.

Artificial contraception just doesn’t work for women living in slum conditions. They have no money for medication or condoms and many lack the reading and writing skills to use artificial methods correctly. It is pointless to tell a woman who can’t read a calendar to take a pill for 21 days and then take a break for 7 days or to attend her doctor every 90 days for a depot injection.

Natural family planning methods can also be difficult to use in an overcrowded slum. In some of the slum dwellings that I visited up to 12 people live in one room and share toilet facilities with other families. The lack of privacy impairs proper use of the sympto-thermal method. Never the less, the women were eager to learn about natural family planning and followed my talk (delivered through a translator) with great interest.

Women in Calcutta Learning About Natural Family Planning

The CycleBeads were well received by my audience. This offers them a safe natural method of birth control that does not require the ability to produce and interpret graphs and reports. CycleBeads use the Standard Day’s Method and are based on the fact that 80% of women have a cycle between 26 and 32 days and therefore are fertile between day 8 and day 19 of their cycle. A ring is moved along the beads every morning of the monthly cycle from day 1 though to the last day. The beads are simple to use and are colour coded with fertile days glowing in the dark (very useful if you don’t have electricity).

Some of the women were very keen on cycle beads as a method of planning rather than preventing a pregnancy. Knowledge of the cycle empowers women and helps them take control of this important aspect of their lives.

I hope to travel to Kolkata again in 2011. Any resources or materials that would help promote health and wellbeing and fertility awareness among the women and young girls would be gratefully accepted.*

* Editor’s Note: Cycle Technologies offers signficiantly discounted pricing to organizations working in developing countries and/or purchasing in bulk – email us at providers@cyclebeads.com for more information.

Dr Deirdre Gleeson is the Medical Director of Medwise, Occupational Health Services, Naas Co. Kildare. www.medwise.ie and lives in St Conleth’s parish Newbridge Co Kildare with her husband and 4 children.

For information on Almas: a charity that helps children suffering from the affects of poverty / AIDS: www.almasworldwide.org

Posted in: Birth Control Options, CycleBeads, Fertility Awareness, International Family Planning, Natural Birth Control, Womens Health

Tags: access, Almas, Calcutta, CycleBeads, Dr. Deirdre Gleeson, family planning, family planning options, India, Institute for Reproductive Health, natural family planning, standard days method, symptothermal method

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