Bright Opoku Ahinkorah is a PhD student at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia and the new Deputy Editor for Reproductive Health. His research investigates the impact of policies and programmes for reducing adolesc
What are you most excited about, in your new role as Deputy Editor for BMC’s Reproductive Health, and which particular aspects of your background are you most looking forward to harnessing in your role?
My major excitement in my new role as Deputy Editor for BMC’s Reproductive Health is being offered the opportunity to be part of a group of expert editors and reviewers who provide valuable feedback to authors to help them contribute excellently to the scientific world. As an expert in the field, with tremendous experience through education and research, I look forward to harnessing my expertise in reproductive health to help the journal achieve its goals of disseminating research on an international scale and helping to tackle global issues to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What are the key findings of your research and how do they relate to the SDGs?
My doctoral research comprehensively examined the impact of policies and programmes for reducing adolescent pregnancy in Ghana through a series of studies, three of which have been published in renowned journals. Building on previous research into factors associated with adolescent pregnancy, I examined the prevalence of first adolescent pregnancy and its associated factors in sub-Saharan Africa and found that age, occupation, marital status, level of education, early sexual initiation, knowledge of contraceptives, unmet need for contraception and wealth quintile are associated with first adolescent pregnancy in sub-Saharan Africa. These factors were considered as the key focus of national policies for pregnancy prevention from the findings of a scoping review of national policies which was conducted as part of my doctoral thesis.
In my doctoral research, I interviewed health and education professionals and grassroots workers and found that there was low level of awareness and knowledge of policies. By contrast, most of the research participants could demonstrate knowledge and awareness of relevant programmes. Gender inequality, stigma around access and use of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services and late childbearing, and lack of collaboration between stakeholders were identified as barriers towards the implementation of policies and programmes. Gender inequality was reinforced by family poverty and inadequate data systems. Focus group discussions with adolescent girls showed fear of side effects and misconceptions about family planning as barriers to access and use of pregnancy prevention information and services. These barriers were reinforced by inaccurate information about family planning methods.
Findings from this research can help to achieve SDG 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, through supporting access to SRH services in adolescent pregnancy. At the global level, these can help achieve SDG 3.7, which seeks to ensure universal access to SRH services, including family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes by 2030. Finally, the findings indicate that policies and programmes that target poverty are required to impact adolescent pregnancy rates. This can also help achieve SDG 1, which seeks to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.
In your opinion, are there individuals who are under-represented in current research that Reproductive Health could further promote?
In my opinion, young people, and women in LMICs are presently under-represented in current research. Hence, it is essential that Reproductive Health further promotes their involvement in research by giving them the opportunity to be reviewers and editors of the journal and encouraging submissions from this cohort of authors. I look forward to supporting these key demographics in my role as Deputy Editor.
What would you say are the greatest reproductive health issues facing the health and well-being of people from low- and middle-income countries, at present?
Presently, women from LMICs experience several reproductive health challenges such as unmet need for family planning, unintended pregnancies, and unsafe induced abortions. Many women in LMICs want to delay or prevent pregnancy, but many lack access to reliable modern contraceptive techniques. This has resulted in an increase in unintended pregnancies, with several of these ending in unsafe induced abortions.
In your opinion, what are the greatest publishing challenges facing the research community at present?
In my opinion, one of the greatest challenges facing the research community presently is the longer turnaround time. Turnaround time is the interval between the submission, usually electronic, of a manuscript or a revision and the sending of the editorial decision. Now, several journals have longer turnaround time, making it frustrating for authors to get their manuscripts published. Another challenge facing the research community is the inability to publish in open access journals due to high article processing charges. This can hinder authors, especially those in low-and middle-income countries, publishing in such journals. This has led to the publication of articles in closed access journals, putting limitations on readership and access to some valuable research outputs. I am pleased to see that Reproductive Health explicitly encourages submissions from those in LMICs, and that the journal is also determined not to let a lack of funding prevent publications from these regions, which is vital to ensure we are truly a global journal.
And finally, what advice would you give to early career researchers and/or students?
I would encourage early career researchers and students to devote part of their time to research publications. In a competitive world, I think several opportunities in the field of research have been reserved for individuals who can demonstrate expertise and knowledge of research through education, training, and research. The research component of this requirement demands that individuals can show their ability to sell their research outputs through publications. Some universities across the world have even made publications part of the requirements for the award of masters and doctoral degrees. It is, therefore, important that early career researchers and students spend some time developing this aspect of their career to enhance their chances of being successful both in education and the job market.