Council Commentary

10 Ideas That Changed the World

How can we protect vulnerable communities from HIV? How does quality of care impact health outcomes?

Many of the ideas and perspectives that seem self-evident today in fact first emerged from an observation, question or insight that challenged accepted norms years ago.

Since our founding, asking bold questions and delivering rigorous evidence to improve health and well-being has been at the heart of the Population Council. Our research has addressed critical health and development issues, from slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS to putting women and girls at the center of global development.

This November, we are proud to turn 65 and to reflect on some of our exciting contributions. We’re celebrating 65 years of Ideas, Evidence, and Impact and the collective efforts that have made this world a better place. 

Join us as we unveil 10 ideas that changed the world in the lead-up to our 65th anniversary on November 7, 2017.

Making the case to invest in adolescents when it counts

Twenty years ago, the Population Council undertook the first major effort to synthesize information on adolescents, including very young adolescents (10–14-years old). The analysis demonstrated that early investments can shape the life trajectories of boys and girls and improve the future physical, social and economic health and well-being of individuals, families and entire communities. Groundbreaking reports, including Investing When It Counts, helped ensure the world’s attention is focused on adolescent girls and when and how to most effectively improve their well-being. Today, the importance of investing in very young adolescents is widely accepted as both the right thing to do and the smart thing do.​

Download Investing When It Counts and learn more about the Council’s work on young adolescents.

Read United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Right Kate Gilmore’s reflections on the importance of Pursuing Evidence to Uphold Girls’ Rights.

Recognizing women and girls as central to development

In 1974, at a landmark UN conference in Bucharest, our founder John D Rockefeller 3rd called for "new and urgent attention to the role of women.” He was a pioneer in the field for recognizing the growing importance of a woman’s ability to choose her role in society and lay the groundwork for the Population Council’s decades of research on advancing women’s health and rights.

Later, in the 1990s, it was Council researchers who were among the first to argue that adolescent girls are central to the world’s social and economic development. Once deemed radical, placing women and girls at the center of global development is now conventional wisdom, thanks in large part to the work of the Population Council.

Today, the Population Council continues to conduct critical research in the area of women and girls’ empowerment and is building the world’s largest open data repository on adolescents as part of the new Girl, Innovation, Research, and Learning (GIRL) Center.

Read The Uncharted Passage: Girls' adolescence in the developing world or Growing Up Global. You can also learn more about our work on empowering adolescent girls.

Putting clients at the center of quality health care

Nearly three decades ago, Council researchers Judith Bruce and Anrudh Jain established a Framework for Quality of Care, which is still used today as a gold-standard for determining the quality of care provided in family planning and reproductive health services. The framework established client-centered care, a basic human right, and has been promoted by women's health organizations and affirmed at international conferences. Today, this framework continues to inform family planning programs around the world.

Learn more about the Population Council’s continued work on Quality of Care and rights-based framework.

Documenting the size and HIV rates among most-at-risk populations in Africa

In the early 2000s, the Population Council embarked on the first large-scale effort to document the size, HIV rates, and vulnerabilities of men who have sex with men in key countries in sub-Saharan Africa – a group previously unrecognized by the public health system. Since then, the Population Council has continued an extensive body of research to document the HIV-related experiences of other populations that are most-at-risk, including sex workers, people who inject drugs and adolescent girls. Our research has informed national HIV & AIDS strategies and programs to improve services, despite discriminatory laws and policies in many settings.

Learn more about our work on key populations at risk for HIV.

Recognizing sexuality health education is about more than biology and individual behaviors

The Population Council research and work has advanced a paradigm shift that broadened sexuality education to include critical thinking skills and recognize the influence of gender equality and power dynamics. Council researcher Nicole Haberland found that sexuality and HIV education programs that address gender and power are much more likely to be effective than those that do not. A Population Council-led collaboration resulted in the comprehensive It’s All One Curriculum, which provides content and activities for placing gender, rights and empowerment at the heart of sexuality and HIV education. It’s All One has been requested nearly 40,000 times in more than 150 countries and is used all around the world – for teacher training, gender-based violence prevention, developing empowerment curricula, life skills education, and more.  

Read: Making Sexuality and HIV sexuality and HIV Education Programs More Effective and The case for addressing gender and power in sexuality and HIV education: A comprehensive review of evaluation studies.

Download the It’s All One Curriculum

Introducing a safe, effective and low-cost treatment to reduce maternal mortality

Council research on the use of magnesium sulfate to treat pre-eclampsia and eclampsia has helped improve access to the drug and reduce maternal deaths. The Council first introduced magnesium sulfate into Kenyan health facilities in 2005, into Nigerian health facilities in 2006, and continues to help expand access into community-based settings. In Nigeria alone, the Council found training health workers to administer the drug resulted in a 40 percent reduction in maternal mortality.

Learn more about the Council’s efforts to treat pre-eclampsia and eclampsia.

Demonstrating the benefits of family planning programs

In the late 1970s, the Council conducted a landmark study in Bangladesh demonstrating how to bring quality family planning to a poor, rural, and conservative population. This groundbreaking research also found that contraceptive use is associated with improved health, earnings, and use of preventative health services, resulting in improved under-five survival and school attendance of children in the household. The program shaped Bangladesh’s national approaches and shaped family planning programs around the world, pioneering the way to bring effective family planning to a poor, rural, conservative population.

Read about shaping family planning programs and policy in Bangladesh

A framework to analyze what determines fertility rates

In 1978, Population Council scholar John Bongaarts published his landmark paper "A Framework for Analyzing the Proximate Determinants of Fertility" in the journal Population and Development Review, which explains how marriage patterns, contraceptive use, breastfeeding, and abortion impact fertility. The framework has become a mainstay of modern demography – it has been incorporated into hundreds of studies that collect and report data used by policymakers and program managers – and continues to be taught to demography students around the world.

Download the framework and learn more about its impact

Bringing to light the hazards of smoking when using the pill

In 1977, Population Council researcher Anrudh K. Jain identified a significant increased risk of death for women who smoke heavily and use oral contraceptives. Contrary to thinking at the time, Jain’s work also showed that oral contraceptives were otherwise safe for most women of any age. The FDA altered its recommendations to advise physicians about the risks of smoking and pill use, helping protect women who smoke from added risk and reaffirming the safety of the pill for most women.

Read about Jain’s research on smoking and the pill

Establishing the field of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)

In the late 1950s, before any modern contraceptives were widely available, our scientists recognized that taking a daily pill was never going to meet the needs of all women. Council researchers developed the first long-acting reversible contraceptives, including the modern IUD and contraceptive implants. Today, some 170 million women are currently using highly effective contraceptives developed by the Council or based on our technology.

Learn more about the Council’s continued work in advancing LARCs