The Initiative for MPTs (IMPT) is dedicated to advancing the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health of women and girls worldwide. The Secretariat staff, who manage this global learning network, comprise a group of women who have worked a combined eight decades in the women’s health and sexual and reproductive health fields. From working with underserved women in Mauritania and the Ivory Coast as Peace Corps volunteers, to HIV testing and counseling in Baltimore, to community organizing in San Francisco and Sacramento, to conducting ethnographic research in Newfoundland, to coordinating HIV prevention clinical trials in Cape Town, our team’s diverse experiences and skills have contributed to the strategic advancement of the MPT field.
In our new blog series entitled ‘Meet the Secretariat Staff’, we dive deeper into our unique stories and united passion to improve the health of women worldwide. This inaugural post features IMPT Director Bethany Young Holt. Through excerpts from a previous IMPT blog post, originally published on the Ms. Magazine blog, we present her personal journey towards her in the MPT field.
“In the early 1990’s, I met a young woman named Gelete. I was working as part of an HIV prevention team along the Sudanese border of Ethiopia, and Gelete was one of our team’s most committed local volunteers working to implement our condom distribution program. Growing up, she dreamed of becoming a physician and attending medical school—but, at age 16, she was raped by her teacher, became pregnant and was then ostracized and abandoned by her own family. With no support and a baby to feed, she moved to a small town to work on a coffee plantation. Since coffee bean harvesting is seasonal work with few other opportunities available in the off season, Gelete joined other young women in similar situations exchanging money for sex to survive.
I returned to the U.S. deeply disheartened to leave behind women like Gelete, knowing they were at high risk for unintended pregnancies and diseases that could negatively impact their lives as well as the lives of their children. As I witnessed firsthand, existing interventions like condoms and education were not enough to address these risks and the reality of women’s lives—and while working on my Ph.D. in epidemiology in Berkeley, California I found that these sexual and reproductive health challenges transcend geography. Whether in the United States or Ethiopia, women needed more options to protect themselves. They needed comprehensive prevention methods they could control and use discreetly. They needed MPTs.
When the MPT field first emerged in 2009, I assumed that such game-changing products with the potential of improving and saving the lives of millions of women worldwide would quickly be developed and hit the market. But aside from condoms, no MPT has been brought to market yet, and even compared with other health prevention products, MPTs have received insufficient funding, particularly from the private sector.
Product development is complex and can take a very long time. (Ask anyone working on products for the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.) It takes patience and tenacity. While there is no shortage of technical and market-based challenges with MPTs, we have made exciting advances, with over 20 products being tested in various stages of clinical trials. Recognizing their potential, MPTs have been prioritized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and several U.S. government funding agencies, namely the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and there is growing international focus on MPTs among HIV prevention, other STI prevention and family planning researchers and advocates.
We need to expand the comprehensive prevention tools available to women. At home and abroad, the time is now.”
Bethany strongly believes that access to MPTs can and will empower women in all areas of their lives, from health to education to economic success. Cognizant of the lengthy process of research and development involved in bringing these life-changing technologies to market, she continues her work as a steadfast advocate for MPTs.
Stay tuned on the IMPT blog to learn more about each of our amazing staff members and the growth of the MPT field in the coming months!