9-18-20 Most fertility-tracking apps are unreliable but free apps work best
Fertility-tracking apps can provide misleading information, and shouldn’t be relied upon to help conceive or as a contraceptive tool, according to an analysis of mobile phone apps available in the UK and Canada. The most reliable apps tend to be the free ones. There are hundreds of apps that offer the ability to track periods in order to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. To find out how reliable they might be, Joyce Harper at University College London and her colleagues considered all 200 of the fertility-tracking apps offered on Apple’s mobile iOS app store. First, they removed apps that were faulty, hadn’t been updated within three years and didn’t offer to predict a user’s “fertile window”. This left 90 apps. Just over half of the apps predicted this window based on when a user has their period. This “calendar method” is based on the understanding that, typically, ovulation happens on day 14 of the menstrual cycle, and fertility is highest in the days leading up to this. But this method is flawed, says Harper. “Your menstrual cycle is not a textbook thing,” she says. “Not every woman has a 28-day cycle, we don’t all ovulate on day 14.” In fact, Harper’s own recent research, based on the data entered into another fertility app, suggests that the average woman ovulates on day 17. “In our study, women ovulated anywhere between day 10 and day 26,” says Harper. Apps that rely only on dates are providing inaccurate information, and could result in some users missing their fertile window, for example, she warns. The more robust apps took into account other markers of fertility based on user input, such as body temperature, which rises during ovulation, and information about the changing state of cervical mucus. Harper says she was surprised to find that, on the whole, the free apps used more of these biomarkers than paid-for apps.
9-15-20 The Nigerian filmmakers risking jail with lesbian movie Ife
Two Nigerian filmmakers face the prospect of imprisonment if they ignore the stern warning of the authorities and proceed with the release of a movie about a lesbian relationship. The dramatic face-off with the regulators - the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) - is worthy of a film itself. Producer Pamela Adie and director Uyaiedu Ikpe-Etim are determined that Ife (meaning "love" in the Yoruba language) reaches a Nigerian audience, but the NFVCB says it will not be approved as it violates the country's strict laws on homosexuality. To get around this, the filmmakers are planning a surprise online release to catch the regulators off-guard. The NFVCB, however, is diligently monitoring all digital platforms to prevent the movie from getting out. According to NFVCB boss Adebayo Thomas, Adie and Ikpe-Etim could be jailed for promoting homosexuality in a country where same-sex relationships are forbidden and can carry a 14-year sentence. They are organising a private screening in the commercial capital, Lagos, at the end of the month, for which they believe they do not need to get permission. Ife will also get an international premiere in Canada in October. Adie said the aim of the film was to show an accurate picture of lesbian and bisexual women in Nigerian movies. If a lesbian woman does appear in a standard Nollywood movie they are often portrayed as being possessed, influenced by bad friends or forced into homosexuality and always needing "saving", she told the BBC. "You rarely see stories about LGBT people, especially about queer women that speak to the realities of our lives. "Ife was made to bridge the gap and to get the conversation going in Nigeria." Ife is a story about two women falling in love as they spend three days together. They "then have their love tested by the realities of being in a same-sex relationship in a country like Nigeria", according to the publicity for the film. If July's trailer, where sex is hinted at but not actually shown, is anything to go by, then Ife certainly pushes the boundaries of telling the LGBT story by Nigerian movie standards.
9-12-20 Obituary: Shere Hite, pioneering sex researcher
"All too many men still seem to believe, in a rather naive and egocentric way, that what feels good to them is automatically what feels good to women." Such terse pronouncements made Shere Hite - a sex researcher who a died this week at the age of 77 - both a feminist hero and a controversial figure in 1970s America. Her pioneering work The Hite Report upended prevailing notions about female sexuality. The book, which came out in 1976, laid out the views of 3,500 women on sexuality and the female orgasm. It challenged many male assumptions, and was derided by some, including Playboy, which dubbed it the "Hate Report". She endured intense and lasting criticism in the US, and eventually renounced her American citizenship in 1995. Born Shirley Gregory in the conservative heartland US state of Missouri, she once worked as a model in New York. To pay for her degree at Columbia University she appeared in a typewriter advert that capitalised on her blonde hair and attractive looks with the caption: "The typewriter that's so smart that she doesn't have to be." Her anger over its sexism inspired her to join protests against it. At one meeting of the National Organization for Women, Hite said the topic of whether all women had orgasms came up. There was silence until someone suggested she look into the topic. The Hite Report: A National Study of Female Sexuality became a huge international bestseller, totalling 50 million copies worldwide. Thousands of contributors set out the pleasures and frustrations of their sexual lives in the work. More than 70% of the women interviewed said they could not reach orgasm through penetrative sex with men alone, and needed clitoral stimulus to reach climax. "I was the only sex researcher at the time who was feminist," she told the Guardian in 2011. "I tried to extend the idea of sexual activity to female orgasm and masturbation."
9-6-20 Armed guards provided for threatened lesbian couple
Payal and Kanchan fell in love as they trained to become policewomen. But their love has faced resistance and they have faced threats, forcing them to go to court to seek protection from their own families, reports BBC Gujarati's Bhargav Parikh. When Payal met Kanchan, back in 2017, she had no idea she would fall in love with her fellow trainee. That year, India’s Supreme Court had ruled that gay sex was no longer a criminal offence, overturning a previous judgement that upheld a colonial-era law. But age-old customs and regressive attitudes survived, making it difficult for same-sex relationships to be accepted by larger society. The women, both now 24, have been living together as a couple since 2018 in the western Indian state of Gujarat, and they know first hand what the discrimination feels like. Their love story was thrust into the limelight last month when they approached the high court. “Our families are against our relationship. They are threatening us,” Payal said, adding that the two filed an application before the court, asking for police protection. The court ruled that the couple should be protected by armed guards. So-called honour killings - when someone is murdered by a family member due to the belief that they have brought shame upon the community - are not uncommon in India and other South Asian countries. One study found that hundreds of people are killed each year in India for falling in love or marrying against their families' wishes. Payal and Kanchan grew up in two remote villages in Gujarat, where a conservative and patriarchal culture reigned supreme. Both said they wanted to break barriers and felt inspired to enter a field dominated by men. They settled on policing. In 2017, when they first met, they said others in the force were reluctant to speak to them since they came from rural parts of the state whereas the rest were from bigger towns and cities. Instantly, they felt alienated from their peers. The two women were assigned the same room during police training. They fell into a comfortable routine - in the evenings, exhausted from exercise, they would meet to catch up and discuss their day. Soon, their chats stretched to include their lives and families, and the two became best friends.
7-16-20 Bolivian sex workers using raincoats to keep 'safe'
Many sex workers in Bolivia say they'll return to work using gloves, bleach and see-through raincoats. They say these recommendations - suggested by the Organisation of Night Workers of Bolivia (OTN-B) - will help keep everyone safe. Prostitution in the South American country is legal and regulated in licensed brothels. Restrictions have slightly eased after an early lockdown in March. But some work - including sex work - is still restricted during the day and a night-time curfew remains in place. Vanesa is a single mother of two children and says she needs to work to fund her studies. "Our clients respect the issue of safety, that we are taking these measures for our security, but also for theirs," she says. Another worker, Antonieta, says she is using a paper face mask, plastic visor, gloves and a raincoat. She also sprays a bleach solution on the pole she uses to dance for clients at her brothel. "The biosecurity suit will allow us to work and protect ourselves." The OTN-B met with the health ministry last month to present a 30-page manual giving guidance to women on how to keep safe. Bolivia has around 50,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,898 deaths to date. Last week, the country's interim president Jeanine Anez Chavez tweeted she had tested positive for Covid-19. But there are concerns that not enough testing is being done in Bolivia which is one of the region's poorest nations. Data shows it is the country with fewest tests per million population. It's incomparable to neighbour Brazil which has been hugely impacted, with 1.97 million people affected and more than 75,000 deaths. Lily Cortes who is a representative of Bolivia's sex workers union, says it's a difficult time for everyone but the restrictions are putting women at huge risk. "We are also part of Bolivian society, we are sex workers, women, aunts and grandmothers that also have to worry about our work hours. "Unfortunately the sex workers will go out to work the streets and the result will be worse."
7-11-20 Sex workers in Europe struggle to survive as clubs slowly reopen
Lotte Alberg, who owns two sex clubs in Amsterdam's famous red-light district, is relieved to see her staff back at work. Club BonTon and Club Elvee both reopened recently after four months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. News that clubs and brothels could reopen in the Netherlands from the start of July took everyone by surprise — including sex workers. Club owners were warned that the industry would remain in lockdown because of the pandemic until September, months after all other sectors had already reopened. But the reality is that many sex workers felt forced to work privately and illegally just to survive. Now, as the industry starts to reopen across Europe, they worry about their earnings and whether they can stay safe. The Dutch administration, like most European governments, paid a percentage of workers' wages while they were furloughed. But sex workers rarely qualify. Many who work in the industry across Europe are undocumented migrants, making them ineligible for government support. Others avoid making a claim for assistance because they do not want their families to know what they do. Alberg says some of her staff had no choice but to continue working privately in order to survive. But it wasn't the coronavirus they feared most, she says. The women told Alberg that clients sometimes refused to pay the agreed price, knowing that workers had little recourse to demand payment because they were working illegally. "They were more afraid of the clients because normally, when they work for us, we say, 'OK, you have to pay this. And this is allowed and this is not allowed'," she said. Alberg says in Germany, the sector remains closed under a government ruling. Most German businesses have now reopened, including gyms, bars, and hairdressers. Viktoria, 29, has been working in the sex industry for nine years and says she feels abandoned by the German government. She asked The World not to use her last name due to the precarity of her work. Originally from Ukraine, Viktoria moved to East Germany with her family at the age of nine. She started out working in strip clubs and now works in various sex studios. For the first few weeks of lockdown, Viktoria stopped working, too. But then with no income, she worried about falling too deeply into debt. Now she says she has three client appointments a week, just to get by. "To be honest, it's just to pay for my food and drinks and everything and not to go too far into debt. I know that it's still illegal, but it's just the bare minimum that I do to keep going on with my life," she said. The German Sex workers' union, BesD, created an emergency fund for its members. But Viktoria says it is already almost out of money. She worries, too, that workers will be further stigmatized and blamed for any further outbreak of the virus. Viktoria says because of the work she does, she's more conscientious than most about working in a safe and clean environment.
7-8-20 Vaginal mesh safety review highlights failures in UK health system
The UK’s “unresponsive and defensive” healthcare system has failed thousands of women who developed life-changing conditions after pelvic mesh surgery, according to a review into the treatment. “The report is hard hitting, harrowing and recognises the total failure in patient safety, regulation and oversight in the UK,” Kath Sansom of campaign group Sling the Mesh said in a statement. The Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review, led by Julia Cumberlege and announced by then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2018, has involved two years of data gathering from women who received vaginal and other pelvic mesh implants, mostly to treat stress urinary incontinence and prolapse that developed after childbirth. Many women went on to develop chronic pain, nerve damage, bowel conditions, recurring infections and mobility issues, among others. The mesh can become embedded in surrounding tissues, making it very difficult to remove. The review found that it is unclear whether the mesh can change in shape or size after it is implanted, and whether chemicals from the mesh can trigger immune conditions, which have been experienced by some women. The number of women affected by these complications is unknown, but thousands have joined support and campaign groups. Many women weren’t told about the risks of the procedure, and describe how their symptoms and complaints were dismissed by doctors as normal consequences of childbirth or menopause, says the review. “The narrative is common,” says Sohier Elneil, a urogynaecologist and uroneurologist in London, who says she comes across similar cases on a daily basis. “Patient safety must be key to everything we do,” she says. “It should be a given, but, quite clearly from the report, it hasn’t been.” The review also assessed the historical use of hormonal pregnancy tests like Primodos, and an epilepsy drug called sodium valproate.
6-3-20 Coronavirus: Sex workers fear for their future
With social distancing rules in place and strip clubs and brothels closed, sex workers around the world have seen their incomes disappear almost overnight as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Fearing for their livelihoods, as well as their health, some are offering services online to keep their business going, while others are turning to charities for help. Estelle Lucas has worked as an escort for the past 10 years in Melbourne, carefully building relationships with her clients. But the spread of Covid-19 and the need for social distancing has prompted a ban on sex work, leaving her worried those efforts will go to waste. "It's fair to say that if I'm not working for six months, a lot of people are going to forget me," she says. "I can't contact my clients and just have a conversation with them. That doesn't work in my industry. We need to build intimacy and that's just not possible in the current environment." Before the coronavirus outbreak, Estelle says she was earning an above-average income, and had hoped to soon pay off the mortgage on her home in Melbourne's inner suburbs. Now nearly all her income has been lost. She has tried to adapt by moving her business online, but says that cannot replace physical contact. "Unfortunately, there are things that can't be translated," she says. "I have made efforts to go online but not everyone is tech savvy. Some of my clients don't even really know how to use a smartphone." While the regional government has outlined a clear roadmap to reopening restaurants and cafes, there has been no plan for the sex industry. That uncertainty, coupled with the many unknowns surrounding the virus itself, has left many sex workers with deep anxiety. "I'm scared that all my work will come back to zero and I will just have to start hustling like I did when I first started out," Estelle says. She also fears for her clients' health. "Are they even going to be there?" she says. "There's a lot of nervous energy going around."
4-15-20 End of one-child policy in China linked to rise in birth anomalies
The rate of birth anomalies in China has increased slightly in the years since it replaced its one-child policy with a two-child policy, perhaps because couples are having second children when they are older. China’s one-child policy, which began in 1979, was replaced in 2013 with a partial two-child policy that permitted couples to have two children if one or both of them were only children themselves. In 2015, this right was extended to all couples. In the years following the policy shift, there has been a rise in fetal and congenital anomalies like Down’s syndrome, heart defects, cleft lip and ear malformations, according to a study by Xiaohui Zhang and Lijin Chen at Zhejiang University in China and their colleagues. They examined the records of more than 1.2 million live births, stillbirths, miscarriages and abortions that occurred between 2009 and 2017. Screening during pregnancy and following birth showed that fetal and congenital anomalies occurred in 246 out of every 10,000 pregnancies during the one-child policy, 265 per 10,000 pregnancies during the partial two-child policy and 304 per 10,000 pregnancies during the universal two-child policy. The rise in such anomalies is probably related to women in China having babies later in life now that they can have more than one child, says Jane Halliday at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia. Women’s eggs are more likely to develop chromosomal changes as they age, which can lead to certain conditions in the fetus, she says. In line with this, the study found that the proportion of women in China who gave birth when they were 35 or older was 9 per cent during the one-child policy and 16 per cent after the universal two-child policy was introduced. The study didn’t look at the age of fathers. Paternal age makes a relatively minor contribution to congenital anomalies, says Lisa Hui, also at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – although some studies suggest otherwise.
3-15-20 MRKH syndrome: 'The day I discovered I was born without a vagina'
A routine question from her doctor about menstruation set Kenyan Julian Peter, now 29, down a path that led her to discover she was born without a womb, cervix or a vagina. Twelve years on she shared her story with the BBC's Anne Ngugi. I was born with a condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), where you have no womb or vagina, and you can also find yourself with just one kidney. A woman who has MRKH can never get periods. I don't have a uterus, so I've never had periods. This is the normal that I know, I don't feel bad about it. People have different feelings about who I am. Someone told me that I should go somewhere to be prayed for. (Webmaster's comment: And that will do absolutely nothing!) Another person said that because I come from Ukambani [a region that is stereotypically linked to witchcraft] then my grandmother had something to do with this. (Webmaster's comment: More nonsense!) They can say whatever they want to but what really matters is how I take it. If I were to listen to them it would start affecting me, and I would start thinking that what they were saying was true. I discovered I had the syndrome when I was a 17-year-old school student. I went to hospital as I had problem with my legs, which were swollen. The first thing the doctor asked me was when I last had my period. I had never had one. They did a scan. The first image indicated that my reproductive tract was closed from the outside. I went through an operation to open it, which was not successful. I had another scan that showed I had no uterus or vagina, and that was when I was diagnosed with MRKH. I cried on the first day and the second day and the third, but then I moved on. I was only 17 and quite small, so my priority was to get back to school. I was in hospital with my mother, my only parent, and the diagnosis shocked her. I think as a parent there were questions she was bound to ask herself, Essentially she was wondering if she had done something wrong. As I had studied biology, I understood what the doctor was saying that first time. I told her that I didn't want to go through with an operation at that point as I wanted to go back to school to complete my education. Ten years later, I went back to hospital and had a successful operation. The type of MRKH that I had meant that I had no vagina, no womb and I only have one kidney. My vaginal canal was not there and it had to be created. My life is normal as MRKH does not interfere with how I want to live. But for some it is emotionally disturbing and people might need to go to a psychologist to accept the condition. When you realise the implications of the condition that you have, you have to forget about giving birth to children.
3-4-20 Venezuela's Maduro urges women to have six children
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has urged women to have six children "for the good of the country". Appearing at a televised event promoting a national women's healthcare plan, Mr Maduro instructed women to "give birth, give birth". The country is facing an economic crisis which has resulted in severe food and medicine shortages. Between 2013 and 2018, 13% of Venezuelan children were malnourished, says UN children's agency Unicef. A bitter power struggle between the government and the opposition has exacerbated the country's trials. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries. But President Maduro, the country's left-wing leader who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan military, has remained in power. "May God bless you for having given life to six little girls and boys", Mr Maduro told a woman who attended the healthcare event. "Every woman should have six children for the good of the country", he said, adding that it was "women's week", a reference to International Women's Day on 8 March. Supporters of Mr Guaidó responded angrily on Twitter. Manuela Bolivar, a member of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said in a tweet: "Hospitals are not functioning, vaccines are scarce, women cannot breastfeed because they are malnourished or buy baby formula because it is unaffordable, and the country faces forced migration due to the humanitarian emergency. "Maduro and all of his regime who say this have psychological dissociation." One in three Venezuelans is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements, according to a study by the UN World Food Programme. Amid the economic crisis, one charity said in 2018 that it had seen the number of babies abandoned in the streets or left at the entrances of public buildings increase by 70%. The Venezuelan government has not released any official figures in recent years.
2-28-20 Falsified sexual orientation
An Iowa lawmaker wants to require people to declare their sexual orientation when applying for a marriage license. Republican State Sen. Dennis Guth says his bill was inspired by the collapse of a friend’s marriage after her husband revealed he was gay, and that it would help a spouse sue for damages if someone “falsified his sexual orientation.”
2-28-20 Promiscuity and cancer
People who have had more sexual partners appear to have a higher risk of developing cancer—especially women. Some sexually transmitted infections are linked to cancer, so researchers had expected to find an association between the disease and an individual’s number of partners. But they were surprised by the starkness of the gender divide, reports USNews.com. The study involved 5,722 men and women, with an average age of 64. The women who had had 10 or more lovers were 91 percent more likely to have had cancer than those who said they had either one or zero. Among men, the risk among those with the most partners was 64 percent higher than those with the least. Women with higher numbers of past partners did tend to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes more frequently—habits that elevate cancer risk. Still, study coauthor Lee Smith says the gender divide is “interesting” and suggests it may be because “the link between certain STIs and cancer is stronger in women, such as HPV and cervical cancer, compared to HPV and penile cancer.”
2-27-20 Forced sterilisation in South Africa: They removed my uterus
A woman in South Africa has told the BBC how she was sterilised without her consent after she gave birth at the age of 17, and only learned about it 11 years later when she tried to have another child. Bongekile Msibi was among 48 women sterilised without consent at state hospitals, the Commission for Gender Equality found. Despite being a statutory body, the commission said its inquiry was hampered by the "disappearance" of patients' files, and its investigators had received a "hostile reception" from hospital staff. The commission said its investigators visited 15 hospitals after civil rights groups brought the cases, some dating back to 2001, to its attention. South Africa's health department has not yet given a detailed response to the report, but said its minister, Zweli Mkhize, had requested a meeting with the commission to discuss it. Ms Msibi recalled her ordeal to the BBC's Clare Spencer: I woke up after giving birth, looked down and asked: "Why do I have a huge bandage on my stomach?" I did not mind. I had just given birth to my baby daughter. She was a big baby and I had been anaesthetised and gone through a Caesarean section. I left hospital five days after giving birth, with a healthy baby daughter and a huge scar across my stomach. I did not find out what had really happened for another 11 years. Things unravelled when I was trying to conceive again. I had been taking the contraceptive pill for that whole time since I had given birth and so it was not strange that I had not had my period. But I got engaged and wanted to have another baby so went to the doctor. He examined me, sat me down, gave me a glass of water and told me I had no uterus. I was devastated and confused. It did not make sense because I was already a mother. I worked out my uterus must have been removed and the only time it could have happened was after I had given birth.
2-16-20 'Period-shaming' Indian college forces students to strip to underwear
India's uncomfortable relationship with periods is back in the headlines. College students living in a hostel in the western Indian state of Gujarat have complained that they were made to strip and show their underwear to female teachers to prove that they were not menstruating. The 68 young women were pulled out of classrooms and taken to the toilet, where they were asked to individually remove their knickers for inspection. The incident took place in the city of Bhuj on Tuesday. The young women are undergraduate students at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI), which is run by Swaminarayan sect, a wealthy and conservative Hindu religious group. They said a hostel official had complained to the college principal on Monday that some of the students were breaking rules menstruating women are supposed to follow. According to these rules, women are barred from entering the temple and the kitchen and are not allowed to touch other students during their periods. At meal times, they have to sit away from others, they have to clean their own dishes, and in the classroom, they are expected to sit on the last bench. One of the students told BBC Gujarati's Prashant Gupta that the hostel maintains a register where they are expected to enter their names when they get their periods, which helps the authorities to identify them. But for the past two months, not one student had entered her name in the register - perhaps not surprising considering the restrictions they have to put up with if they do. So on Monday, the hostel official complained to the principal that menstruating students were entering the kitchen, going near the temple, and mingling with other hostellers. The students allege that, the next day, they were abused by the hostel official and the principal before they were forced to strip. They described what happened to them as a "very painful experience" that had left them "traumatised" and amounted to "mental torture".
1-29-20 Sex Education: 'I wish I knew sex could be fun growing up'
You might remember a condom on a banana, or just a general sense that if you have sex, you'll either get A) pregnant or B) a disease. We're talking about sex education at school. The messy corners of growing-up were tiptoed around by teachers who couldn't even bring themselves to say "penis". So when the TV show Sex Education - which centres around two students who set up a sex clinic in their school - first debuted on Netflix last year, it was a breath of fresh air. The first series boldly tackled topics including slut-shaming, abortion, virginity and masturbation - which Aimee Lou Wood, who plays Aimee Gibbs, told Radio 1 Newsbeat she "thought was only a boy thing". Growing up, Aimee thought she was a "weirdo" for wanting to masturbate. And when filming the series the 24-year-old found that other people felt the same. "When I filmed a masturbation scene, extras were asking me, 'What do you mean you had a scene like that? That's only for boys'." Chatting to some of the show's cast at the season two premiere it became obvious that lots of them feel they didn't learn enough about the realities of sex growing up. "Food, jobs, sex... it's a very key part of life and we don't know enough about it," Aimee said. "I wish I knew it was normal to want sex for pleasure, and not just to make babies." The character Aimee plays has one of the most talked about storylines of the series. She is sexually assaulted and the series sees her coming to terms with what happened. The storyline received huge reaction online. Aimee says her storyline had a "huge impact" on her. "I had to go back to when I was that age and how trusting I was. A lot of girls will relate to it." Emma Mackey, who plays the show's female lead Maeve, agrees that the programme is important in challenging taboos. "The show makes you feel less lonely; I wish it existed when I was at school to make me feel more normal," she told us. When asked what they'd learnt during filming, the word "vaginismus" was quick to leave almost all cast members' mouths. The NHS says: "Vaginismus is when the vagina suddenly tightens up just as you try to insert something into it." Tanya Reynolds, whose character Lily has vaginismus, said: "I didn't even know it had a name. So many women will watch this and realised there's not something wrong with them."
1-29-20 AI is being used to select embryos for women undergoing IVF
Artificial intelligence is being used in IVF to select embryos with the highest chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The AI algorithm, called Ivy, analyses time-lapse videos of embryos as they are incubated after being fertilised, and identifies which ones have the highest likelihood of successful development. It was developed by Harrison.ai, a tech firm in Sydney, and has been used for several thousand women undergoing IVF in Australia. Women who undergo IVF using Ivy are informed about the algorithm and consent to its use. Ivy was trained on more than 10,000 videos of embryos growing inside an incubator for five days, in combination with data about which embryos resulted in pregnancy. The model is more accurate than trained specialists at predicting the likelihood that an embryo will go on to develop a fetal heartbeat at or beyond seven weeks’ gestation. In a study of its predictive ability, Ivy scored 0.93 on a measure known as AUC, where a score of 1 indicates a model with predictions that are 100 per cent correct. In comparison, trained human embryologists have previously scored an AUC of around 0.74. “The results look very promising,” says Iman Hajirasouliha at Cornell University in New York. He and colleagues have developed a similar AI, Stork, based on videos of 12,000 embryos on day five post-fertilisation. What these AIs are identifying in the videos as a marker of success isn’t entirely clear. “Ultimately it’s still a bit of a black box,” says Aengus Tran, CEO of Harrison.ai. “We could speculate that it must have learned very similar features to what embryologists are looking at,” says Tran. These might include the shape of cells, how symmetrically they divide, and how long it takes to go from two to eight cells.
1-24-20 Taking Viagra in early labour reduces the need for emergency caesarean
Taking Viagra during the very first stages of labour halves the need for an emergency caesarean, a clinical trial has found. During labour, contractions reduce blood flow to the placenta, meaning some babies don’t get enough oxygen. About one in four emergency caesarean operations are performed for this reason. “Most babies are able to tolerate this reduction in blood flow, but they may not be able to if, for example, the placenta isn’t functioning properly or the contractions are just too frequent,” says Sailesh Kumar at the University of Queensland, Australia. Kumar and his colleagues wondered if the drug sildenafil, sold under the brand name Viagra, could help to increase blood flow to a fetus in the same way that it boosts blood flow to the penis in men with erectile dysfunction. The drug works by widening the blood vessels. The researchers gave sildenafil to 150 pregnant women who were going into labour at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane. To provide a comparison, another 150 women who were also in early labour were given placebo pills. In the sildenafil group, 51 per cent fewer emergency caesareans were needed and there were 43 per cent fewer cases of irregular heart rate patterns – a sign that a fetus is in distress. No major side effects were observed. The researchers are now planning a bigger trial involving more than 3000 women at 16 hospitals across Australia. They hope to confirm that sildenafil reduces fetal distress and emergency caesareans, and to demonstrate that this results in better health outcomes for babies. If this is shown to be the case, sildenafil may be routinely prescribed when labour begins, since it is hard to predict who will have problems with fetal distress and need an emergency caesarean, says Kumar.
1-22-20 Blood test can predict when women will have their last period
For some women, reaching the menopause can be one of life’s milestones, but when it will happen is a big unknown. Now a blood test can help predict when a woman’s last menstrual period is likely to be. The test, called MenoCheck, can’t give a firm date, but it can tell women who are over 47 if they are likely to stop having periods within the next year. It would be most useful for those considering being sterilised or having surgery for painful or heavy periods, says Nanette Santoro at the University of Colorado Medical School in Aurora. “They may be wondering how much longer they have to put up with this.” The average age at which menopause occurs is 51, but in most cases, it can happen any time from a person’s forties to early sixties. Periods usually become more infrequent before stopping for good. They stop because the ovaries run out of functioning eggs, which leads to lower levels of anti-Mullerian hormone – a chemical made by eggs – in blood. Previous tests haven’t been able to measure the very low levels of anti-Mullerian hormone present in the year or two before menopause. But MenoCheck, which has been on sale for about a year, is more sensitive. To see how well it does, Santoro’s team used it on blood samples taken at yearly intervals from about 1500 women taking part in a different menopause study. Santoro is a consultant for MenoCheck’s manufacturer Ansh Labs. The team found that those over 47 whose anti-Mullerian hormone level was below a certain cut-off had a 67 per cent chance of having their last period within the next year, and an 82 per cent chance of having it within two. Most women wouldn’t need to take the test to know that they are nearing the menopause, says Esther Eisenberg at the US’s National Institutes of Health.
1-17-20 How to raise money
A Los Angeles model raised more than $500,000 for Australian wildfire victims by offering nude selfies in exchange for proof of a $10 donation. Kaylen Ward, 20, made her self-pledge on Instagram on Jan. 3 under the name “The Naked Philanthropist” and was soon deluged with 50,000 charitable receipts made to accredited charities. But her amazing success also had unintended consequences when her family and boyfriend saw her online pledge. “My family disowned me, and the guy I like won’t talk to me,” she said. “But f--- it, save the koalas.”
1-15-20 Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy may trigger PTSD and depression
One in six women who experience an early miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder nine months later. As people can experience the symptoms of PTSD for months, it is important that women are able to access psychological support should they need it, say the researchers behind the work. It is estimated that women have more miscarriages than live births over their lifetime. But the psychological effects are often “brushed under the carpet”, says Jessica Farren, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at St Marys Hospital in London. Women often don’t tell their friends, family and colleagues that they are pregnant until they have had their 12-week scan. If that scan reveals a miscarriage, they may feel unable to tell people, so miss out on support, says Farren. She and her colleagues asked 737 women who experienced a miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy – in which the embryo attaches outside of the uterus, causing pregnancy loss – to fill out mental health questionnaires designed to diagnose anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The questionnaires were sent to the women one month after their pregnancy losses, and then again three and nine months after the losses. Nine months after experiencing a pregnancy loss, 18 per cent of women met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, 17 per cent of women reported anxiety and 6 per cent of women had symptoms of moderate to severe depression. The figures are “terrifyingly high”, says Farren. “We have a problem on our hands that we haven’t up until now properly acknowledged or looked to treat.” That was the experience of Samantha* who had an early miscarriage last year. “Initially it was like a bereavement,” she says. “[My husband and I] both felt very connected to that baby and still do. I felt loss, emptiness, scared that I might not be able to have another child (but in some ways relieved that we’d been able to get pregnant)….We both had and still have moments where it hurts.”
1-14-20 'Miracle baby' born after womb transplant
Jennifer Gobrecht’s uterus transplant allowed her to have a baby, meaning Benjamin became only the second child in the US to be born through the procedure. The medical care to the Philadelphia family was provided by a transplant trial at Penn Medicine.
1-12-20 The U.S. immigration system is full of hurdles for pregnant women and new mothers
ICE data show that detentions of pregnant women increased by more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2018 A 19-year-old Honduran woman was nearly separated from her newborn soon after giving birth while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody this month, shortly after crossing the U.S. southern border. The teen had turned herself into CBP agents at the border while in labor, seeking medical services she could not get in Tijuana, Mexico, where she had been previously. "She asked the agent when she was going to be able to see her child, and they told her that she wasn't going to be able to see the baby and that she would be taken back to Border Patrol custody and returned to Mexico," said Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director of Al Otro Lado, a social justice legal organization representing the mother. Pinheiro told The World there have been numerous documented cases in which CPB or Immigration and Customs Enforcement have separated newborns from their mothers after births in U.S. custody. "There's actually probably dozens of cases like this every month along the U.S. border," she said. "And we're not entirely sure of the exact scope of the problem because most of it's done in secret." Following widespread media attention and public outrage, CBP officials announced that the young mother would be allowed to stay in the U.S. with her child as her asylum claim is adjudicated. Her case is just one example of the hurdles faced by pregnant migrant women and new mothers navigating the Trump administration's tightening immigration policies. ICE did not return The World's request for information regarding separations of newly born babies from their mothers. The Honduran teen could have been sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols — a Trump administration policy under which asylum-seekers crossing at the U.S. southern border are returned to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration proceedings. And while MPP does have exceptions for vulnerable migrants — such as those with health issues — the decision to send someone to Mexico often comes down to the discretion of individual border officers. "Inconsistent review of those exceptions to the 'Remain in Mexico' policy are leading to human rights violations," said immigration attorney Ruby Powers. "The whole concept is a violation of human rights law and policy because of the lack of access to medical and legal care, as well as being left in squalor and makeshift tents along the border — children, pregnant women, people with medical conditions are at the whim of whoever comes along."
1-10-20 Cost of birth
Women who have health insurance pay an average out-of-pocket cost of $4,500 for the delivery of a baby, according to a study of 657,000 women by University of Michigan researchers. Those costs are largely the result of higher deductibles, as employers shift the soaring expense of health care onto employees.
1-10-20 Hungary to provide free fertility treatment to boost population
Hungary will provide free in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to couples at state-run clinics, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced. He said fertility was of "strategic importance". Last month his government took over Hungary's fertility clinics. Mr Orban, a right-wing nationalist, has long advocated a "procreation over immigration" approach to deal with demographic decline. The country's population has been falling steadily for four decades. Mr Orban described details of his fertility policy on Thursday, after bringing six fertility clinics under state control in December. Free IVF treatment will be offered from 1 February, but it is not clear who exactly will be entitled to it. Mr Orban also said the government was considering an income tax exemption for women who have three children or more. Starting this month, those with at least four children have been exempt. "If we want Hungarian children instead of immigrants, and if the Hungarian economy can generate the necessary funding, then the only solution is to spend as much of the funds as possible on supporting families and raising children," the prime minister said. Mr Orban - who has been prime minister since 2010 - has based his campaigns on opposition to immigration. In September last year, he told an international summit on demography that while other European leaders believed immigration was the solution to falling population numbers, he rejected this. The prime minister then echoed the far-right "great replacement" theory, which claims that white European populations are being gradually replaced by people of non-European descent. "If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future, and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others," Mr Orban told the conference at the time. "There are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population for ideological or other reasons." (Webmaster's comment: Why would any woman want to have children in a right-wing nationalist country? Those countries are lethal to their civil rights!)
1-8-20 UK’s Vagina Museum busts myths with surgery tales and glitter tampons
The crowd-funded activists behind London's Vagina Museum have ambitious plans to get us much better informed about the reality of vaginas, vulvas and virginity. A GIANT, red, glittery tampon is the first thing you see as you walk into the Vagina Museum, a small gallery that recently opened in London and claims to be the first of its kind. The point of this exhibition, Muff Busters: Vagina myths and how to fight them, is to educate visitors about human anatomy, as well as tackling taboos and giving people confidence to talk to doctors about their bodies. When I first heard about the project, it sounded pretty old hat. Do we really still need this kind of consciousness-raising in the UK in 2020, where, until last year, the prime minister was a woman? But when I visited the museum, it made me think again. A display of images celebrating the normal diversity of gynaecological anatomy may seem like a cliché, until you recall that, in recent years, there has been a fivefold rise in the number of labial reduction surgeries by the National Health Service in the UK. According to a recent report by gynaecologists, this is partially due to unrealistic representations in pornography. The problem seems to be that people don’t know what typical genitals look like. Other exhibits aim to bust myths. Contrary to popular belief, the hymen isn’t a reliable indicator that a person has had sex. As a small area of mucosal skin around the edges of the vagina, the hymen may bleed a little when someone first has penetrative sex, but it usually doesn’t. It is so naturally variable that one individual may have regular sex and still retain some visible hymen tissue, while another may never have had sex and yet have no hymen at all. Nevertheless, this scrap of flesh has long been used to control the lives of girls and women the world over – and still is in some families. In November, US rapper TI said he took his daughter on yearly trips to a doctor to have her virginity “checked”, something that is medically impossible and that critics called abusive.
1-4-20 Is artificial-womb technology a tool for women's liberation?
Artificial wombs promise to relieve women of the physical oppression, but don't necessarily address the problem on the conceptual level. While some women experience pregnancy and childbirth as joyful, natural, and fulfilling, others find themselves recoiling in horror at the physical demands of carrying and sustaining a child in their womb, and even more so at the potential brutality of giving birth. Some might view the blood, sweat, and tears as a necessary and unavoidable part of life. Others, such as the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, writing in her book The Dialectic of Sex (1970), assume a less forgiving view of the process as "barbaric" or akin to "sh*tting a pumpkin." Most, like myself, oscillate between the two positions, or else sit somewhere in between. Whatever one's position on the matter of the "naturalness" of pregnancy, it can't be denied that the development of artificial-womb technology (known as ectogenesis) would radically change the debate. First, there are the therapeutic benefits it promises: women prone to risky pregnancies could transfer the fetus to an artificial womb, thereby allowing fetal development to continue at little cost to their own physical health; likewise, fetuses at risk of premature birth could be transferred to artificial wombs to complete their development as required. The blood, sweat, and tears, it seems, might not be so intrinsic to the process after all. Second, the technology could have important social benefits for women. For Firestone, artificial wombs would eliminate a crucial condition that currently ensures women's oppression by neutralizing the heavily gendered process of reproduction. Though there exist indisputable biological differences between the sexes, she argued that this difference becomes oppressive in the unfair division of reproductive labor and its naturalization through the ideal of the nuclear family. But if fetuses were to develop in artificial wombs, women would finally be free to pursue their interests and desires outside of their reproductive duties.
1-1-20 Taking on Germany’s tampon tax: 'Periods are not a luxury'
In 2018, activists Nanna-Josephine Roloff and Yasemin Kotra decided to challenge Germany's luxury tax on all sanitary products. Their online petition gained more than 180,000 signatures in less than two years and led to a change in the law.