Knowledge is Power: Dr. Kafuli Agbemenu’s Quest to Improve Reproductive Health Education in African Refugee Women

Dr. Kafuli Agbemenu.

By Jessica SCATES

Published February 21, 2020

Sex Ed.

What do you picture?

My own experience included a room full of my giggling peers and an uncomfortable teacher trying to communicate the science behind reproduction.

When University researchers like Dr. Agbemenu work alongside [Buffalo's] communities, UB is at its finest – shaping knowledge to improve the lives of all our neighbors.

An April 2019 article in the Guardian outlines innovative ways that governments and NGOs are providing sex education classes around the world: from football (soccer) in Uganda to preschool discussions in Holland to body part aprons in Indonesia. Despite the diverse way it’s communicated, sex ed is often not comprehensive and inequitably distributed to populations.

The importance of comprehensive sex education is well known. Switzerland and the Netherlands have the lowest number of teenage pregnancies in the world – perhaps because of the open attitudes toward sex education. When equipped with evidence-based knowledge, women, in particular, can make reproductive health choices that improve their lives and the lives of their families.  ”

Dr. Kafuli Agbemenu, assistant professor of nursing, has spent her academic career seeking to understand how reproductive health knowledge impacts women’s lives.

Dr. Agbemenu’s interest in science began at a young age. She received a BS in Nursing from the University at Buffalo as well as an MSN, MPH, and PhD in Nursing from University of Pittsburgh. To be more impactful, she sought a career with opportunities to create population-level change – for her, she could do this through research.

In many places around the world, superstitions and power dynamics lead to unwanted teenage pregnancies and even suicide due to shame. Having grown up in Kenya, Dr. Agbemenu was interested in the ways African immigrant mothers provided reproductive health education to their daughters – the focus of her dissertation. She interviewed  African immigrant mothers who, although they had less than ideal experiences with reproductive health education, tried to provide evidence-based information to their own daughters.

Since her appointment with the School of Nursing, Dr. Agbemenu has continued this line of research, working with the African refugee community in Buffalo. In 2018, Dr. Agbemenu published an article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing presenting findings that Somali Bantu women in Buffalo are quite open to using birth control methods so as to space out pregnancies. However, they are generally averse to language that suggests pregnancies can be “prevented” or “stopped”. In 2019, Dr. Agbemenu authored an article that analyzed labor and delivery as well as prenatal care data for Caucasian, African American, and African Refugee women spanning 10 years. She found African Refugees had healthier pregnancies than their counterparts did.

Currently, Dr. Agbemenu’s work is focusing on family planning myths and misconceptions as well as attitudes toward HIV among African Refugees and Immigrants. Noting that typical interactions with medical providers are verbal or written, Dr. Agbemenu wants to provide culturally congruent, comprehensive, and reputable knowledge to women who do not speak English and may not be able to read.

The City of Good Neighbors has welcomed refugees fleeing violence and persecution for over a century. These communities have changed over time – from Irish and Italian refugees at the turn of the century, to Jewish refugees following World War II, to Burmese refugees in the 1990s, to Syrian refugees. They have made Buffalo their home and Buffalo has responded; many organizations work to ensure the health and wellbeing of Buffalo’s diverse communities, including the University at Buffalo. When University researchers like Dr. Agbemenu work alongside these communities, UB is at its finest – shaping knowledge to improve the lives of all our neighbors.


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