May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and considering that we are still living in an age where birth control is trying to be outlawed and teens are shamed for seeking out information about their sexuality, we have a lot of progress to make. One changemaker who is making a difference is Ronda Dean, president and CEO of Afaxys Pharmaceuticals, which is focused on ensuring all women have access to safe, high quality and affordable contraceptive products. In fact, even as a start-up pharmaceutical company, it's the only U.S. company to offer both over-the-counter and prescription emergency contraceptives.
Having worked at Planned Parenthood for three years and now heading up a women's focused pharma company, Ronda has a lot of knowledge to give on getting access to birth control and how teenage women can take control of their own sexual health. I sat down with the businesswoman to gain some insight from her expertise on this important issue.
Why did you start Afaxys Pharmaceuticals, and what is its mission?
Afaxys was founded as a first-of-its-kind health care company in 2008. We did it to ensure that the public health sector always had access to affordable, quality FDA-approved products. Up until that point of time, there had been unpredictable pricing, product supply dysfunction, presenting challenges for the public health sector. The company fills this gap and then provides products and services to women who get their services in the public health sector. We believe that regardless of where you get your healthcare needs served, that every woman deserves the very best.
Did your background in working for Planned Parenthood help to inform the creation of your company?
I started working in the pharmaceutical industry 20 years before I started working for Planned Parenthood. What's interesting about my relationship to Planned Parenthood, which informs my point of view, is that they were also my healthcare provider when I was in college. That was where I went when I was at Ohio State University, which is where I got my first pack of birth control pills. When you take control of your reproductive life, it allows you to manage everything else in your life. My view on women's health and reproductive rights, I believe, were informed by my first interaction with Planned Parenthood when I was 18 years old.
What do you think is the biggest challenge are presented to young women today in accessing contraception?
I think getting to a quality provider is probably the biggest challenge. Once that access is made available to her, then I think the world opens up. If you have access to that quality health care provider, then you have access to quality healthcare, and good quality products at affordable prices. I think once that barrier can be overcome, than I think that's when things really become more available.
A lot of teenage girls also have trouble accessing comprehensive sex education, since most states in the U.S. practice abstinence-only education. With these structural barriers, how do you think teenage girls can take control of their sexual health?
The Internet is an amazing thing; that's one of the best things about young women today -- they're so smart! I've always been amazed at the young women we have the opportunity to meet. They have information available to them that when I was their age, we didn't have. I think that's the important thing; having access to information so that you don't always have to rely on the structural components of society. You can use your own initiative and resources to find the quality health care providers you need.
In talking about Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month (which is in May), what do you think is really missing around the conversations that take place during this month, or even teen pregnancy in general?
I would not say I'm an expert in teen pregnancy prevention... but if there's one thing I could maybe advise, it would be having someone you can go to to ask questions, finding someone you trust. These young women are really good at seeking information, so making sure you're getting that information from a qualified source, is what I really think is the best way, regardless of your age.
Afaxys produces emergency contraception, which has been a highly contested issue in recent years. Do you think the issue in relation to teenage girls, the conversation around EC needs to be reframed?
Women are judged so harshly sometimes and I think it's easy to be critical in situations like this, when we should give her credit for finding emergency contraception when she needs it. After she takes her emergency contraception, I'm sure she'll take the opportunity to be proactive. I think we should be less critical and be more supportive of the fact she practiced positive decision making.
I agree with that and think that making the decision to take EC if you dont' want to become pregnant and have an emergency is a responsible one.
I'm a proponent of women being able to make the decisions they need for themselves to make their life as healthy and productive as possible. I give her all the credit she deserves when she makes what I call those very strong and responsible decisions.
For girls who are facing some barriers in accessing emergency contraception that might not be legal in nature, like say a store owner wrongly asking to see an ID, what do you advise that they do in order to obtain access?
One of the great things about having emergency contraceptives available is that a woman can get ahead of it and has access through a pharmacy. That doesn't necessarily mean you can have the conversation that you want to have, and that could be because they are busy or because she isn't comfortable asking the questions she wants to ask. How I look at it is that you can get emergency contraception in places other than your pharmacy. If you want to have questions or aren't completely comfortable, get on the Internet and find a family planning provider near you. There you can go and buy the same product over the counter and get really great information and additionally, they can advise you on other methods of contraceptives to prevent having emergencies. It's great to have access at your local pharmacy if you have an emergency, but if you want more than just access, those family planning providers and the public healthcare system are truly amazing.
Did you have any closing statements or ideas that you want to convey before the end of the interview?
It's truly an honor be able to support women and the health care providers in the public health system that take care of them. I wake up every morning and look forward to coming to work because it's work that I not only enjoy, but that I'm proud to do at Afaxys. I applaud the young women of America who make smart decisions about how to control their lives, and I'm glad that we get to support them.