Black females in this country are twice as likely to become pregnant in their teens as their white counterparts and they have a higher rate of sexually transmitted infections -- seven times the rate of chlamydia as white women nationally. And the rates in Philadelphia are equally grim, if not worse. Joy Cooper, MD, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, hopes to help reduce those numbers in West Philadelphia with a pilot summer program and social media.
The pilot, which starts in September, comprises six Saturday sessions to be held in the recently opened Henry Jordan Medical Education Center of the Perelman School of Medicine. Black female med students from Penn will lead the small groups (up to 20 high school students), helping them learn more about contraception and STDs. “We’re taking it beyond the birds and the bees,” Cooper said. “The med students will teach anatomy and physiology so the girls understand their bodies and how contraception works. We want them to get to know themselves inside and out.”
Cooper’s dedication to educating and empowering young woman is not new. In 2012, she and Nenna Nwazota, MD, created Daughters of the Diaspora, Inc, a non-profit organization that teaches self-esteem and reproductive health to adolescent young women throughout the African Diaspora. She has reached out to young, African women in both Kenya and Ghana, partnering with students at local universities who tailor the DoD curriculum for their culture and locale.
For the Philadelphia program, Cooper will recruit students from four Philadelphia high schools -- Overbrook, West Philadelphia, Sayre, and Bartram – and she’s looking for a diverse group. “I want students from different backgrounds and grade levels,” she said.
She specifically asked black female med students to be a part of the pilot as teachers. “I’m hoping that seeing the med students – who look like them – will build the girls’ self-esteem, empower them,” Cooper said. “When you have power and care about yourself, you’re less likely to fall prey to pregnancy and STDs.”
Four medical students are currently undergoing training to teach the high school students. “We’re teaching them the curriculum, they’ll practice among themselves, and then we’ll start the program,” she said.This training will not only benefit the young women the med students are reaching out to but also their future patients. “We’re helping them learn to communicate, how to translate information so a patient understands,” Cooper said.
One of those teaching the sessions is Shanaye Jeffers, a third year student in the School of Medicine who jumped at the chance to be part of this program. “We keep seeing the same diseases and pregnancies [among black youth],” she said. “This project and program begin to acknowledge and take seriously the discrepancy in health care and do what needs to be done to fill in the empty space. I think it’s the way to move forward.”
In addition to the program’s six sessions, Cooper plans to use social media – including Facebook and Twitter –to help get out the information. “This is a medium these girls use every day,” she noted. A multidisciplinary group – including Penn undergrads and research coordinators in our department – will brainstorm for topics and post daily,” Cooper said. “I want this information to go viral!” The organization twitter handle and instagram name is @dodiaspora. The Facebook website is www.facebook.com/dodiaspora.
Cooper recently received a Penn Medicine CAREs grant which will not only help Cooper fund the pilot project but additional outreach efforts as well, including a middle school assembly project and dinners to bring adolescents and young women together to discuss pertinent health and cultural issues.
Photo caption: From left: Joy Cooper with medical students Ivy Maina and Claudia Gambrah, and Janice Okeke, workshop facilitator & CDC fellow.