Every year, more than 31 million Americans rely on community and public health centers for essential care, yet, lack of funding and unpredictable supply chains have impacted access to critical sexual and reproductive services. This puts even more patients at a greater disadvantage—including those who already face inequities due to gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic status and other factors.
These challenges can cause health issues to go undiagnosed or untreated and can also produce a rise in unintended pregnancies. All of this is particularly and intrinsically tied to whether a woman has control of her own body, her own destiny. From an educational, professional, or personal perspective, decisions such as whether a woman does or does not have children or her ability to thrive in a professional career are in many cases predetermined, particularly for those in underserved communities.
Power to Decide estimates more than 19 million women of reproductive age living in the U.S. are in need of publicly funded contraception, but do not have access to a full range of birth control methods. Also according to Power to Decide, millions of people are living in ‘contraceptive deserts’—areas in which people have difficulty accessing health centers that offer a full range of contraceptive options.
Easy access to affordable sexual and reproductive care gives women control over if and when they become pregnant and affords them multifold and well-established benefits—including power over their personal lives, which can affect their economic outlook.
One study estimated that from the 1960s to the year 2000, more than 250,000 women obtained a bachelor’s degree because of contraceptive access. These educational opportunities not only enrich lives, and they can also lead to economic advantages—often resulting in greater job stability and higher pay. The same study found that contraceptive access early in one’s reproductive years can increase a woman’s annual earnings in her early 40’s by 11 percent.
By avoiding unintended pregnancies or delaying childbirth, women can more readily invest not only in their education but also in their careers. Research indicates that from 1970 to 1990, contraceptive access accounted for 15 percent of the increases in women’s labor force participation.
I fully believe that access to sexual and reproductive care can not only shape, but truly transform lives. When I was in college, I relied on public and community health centers for essential care, which allowed me to focus on my educational and professional journey. I found my passion in healthcare and have spent my entire career working in various facets of the healthcare system: first, in infectious diseases as a clinical microbiologist, then devoting the next 25+ years to working in the pharmaceutical industry across several therapeutic areas, with most of my focus in women’s health.
In these roles, I recognized the importance of health centers—which shaped my professional journey and entrepreneurial vision. I saw firsthand how today’s changing and uncertain healthcare environment leaves many public and community health providers struggling to serve their patients.
In response, I co-founded Afaxys, a company focused on addressing and helping to close gaps in access and delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare to community and public health centers and their patients. Our name intersects “affordable” and “access,” and our mission is just that—to provide a stable, affordable supply of products and services that providers need to care for their patients.
As CEO, I’m one of very few women at the head of a company. Although 51 percent of our total U.S. population is women, just 8.8 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs. Early in my career in the pharmaceutical industry, I was identified as a high potential with the possibility to rise to the most senior level in that industry. As I look back, I realize that without access to these healthcare services, my journey could have been much different, and my career path could have been derailed.
There is no room for the disparities that unfortunately exist in our healthcare system today. Zip code and gender should not determine the type of healthcare a person receives. Affordable access to sexual and reproductive healthcare should be an equal right, not a privilege; it greatly impacts individuals as well as the entire community.
Women must prioritize their healthcare needs to control their own destiny. Empowering women with more freedom over their healthcare is imperative, and the collective “we” must work together—across public, private, government and other sectors—to ensure important care and resources are readily and easily available so that more women, more people, can shape their own future.
By Ronda Dean, C200 member and President, CEO, and Co-Founder of Afaxys, a healthcare company serving public healthcare providers and their patients seeking reproductive and sexual healthcare. Known as a passionate healthcare executive with 30+ years of accomplishments in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.