Symposium to bring world leaders in population studies Population Dynamics Turns 25 Cynthia Salter ----------------------------- Special to The Gazette Twenty-five years ago when the university's Population Dynamics Department was founded, many of today's standard "tools of the trade" did not even exist. Very little information was available on populations, especially in developing countries, and almost no information was available on contraceptive use. Few national family planning programs existed, and even fewer had demonstrated that they could affect fertility. "These were things we were just learning at the time," says W. Henry Mosley, department chairman and one of numerous university faculty members and alumni who have shaped the population field. "We tend to take a lot of the work done back then for granted, but 25 years ago, it was all new." The Population Dynamics Department will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a two-day symposium this Friday and Saturday. The symposium opens at 9:30 a.m. and will include presentations and discussions by faculty members and representatives from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, The Population Council, The Alan Guttmacher Institute and Princeton University. Donald A. Henderson, professor and former dean, will speak at the celebration dinner held Friday evening at Stouffers Hotel. Some of the ground-breaking work that emerged over the past 25 years included the first national family planning survey ever conducted, the development of a measure of contraceptive use and its effect on fertility, understanding of the inadequacies of single-method programs (those that provide only one form of contraception) and the realization that well-trained non-physicians could provide quality family planning services. Research also documented the fertility-controlling effect of long-term exclusive breast feeding. "This was a learning phase for everybody," Mosley remembers. "We often forget what breakthroughs these were at the time." Prior to 1970, Population Dynamics was a division of the Department of Population and Family Health, and many faculty were already at the forefront of population research under the leadership of then-chairman Paul Harper, who had begun doing population studies in the 1960s. Internationally, John Cobb, Rowland Rider, Jack Kantner and Ismail Sirageldin were developing a family planning research program in Pakistan. Sirageldin directed the Pakistan National Impact Survey--the first national family planning survey ever conducted in a developing country. The survey was a precursor to the later World Fertility Surveys and today's Demographic and Health Surveys, conducted in developing countries around the world and a cornerstone of health and population research data. Mosley became involved in population studies in 1965 while working on a cholera vaccination program in Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. As part of the vaccine study, Mosley's field workers had to make daily visits to the 100,000 study households to ask about cases of diarrhea. Mosley figured that they could ask about births and deaths as well. "We were registering all the births and deaths, so I was monitoring fertility," he remembers. The Pakistani government had begun an aggressive family planning program of providing intra-uterine devices to women and was claiming impressive results. "But I was finding no change in fertility," says Mosley. "We were providing empirical evidence that the program was not working," he adds. "That was really my baptism into population," he says, "by being involved in the field with a population study in a country that was struggling to get a family planning program going, and the program collapsed." Back in Baltimore when the university founded the Population Dynamics Department, Mosley was asked to serve as chairman. "That was rather a big jump for me," he says now, smiling. "And a big change. I had been a master's student here, and then six years later I was a professor and chairman of the department. When I came back [from Bangladesh] and began to teach, family planning was just getting started." But the field was taking off--both overseas and domestically. In the U.S. faculty members Melvin Zelnik and Jack Kantner had conducted the first national survey of adolescent fertility and contraceptive use. "This was truly a breakthrough at this time," says Mosley. "The idea that you would go out and ask unmarried women between the ages of 15 and 19 about their sexual activity was shocking. Now these kinds of studies are done all the time, but back then it was a very sensitive topic." In its first decade, the department focused on research on fertility, with an agenda extending from investigations in reproductive biology, directed by Larry Ewing for over 20 years, to basic and applied research in demography, sociology, economics, reproductive epidemiology, and family planning program management and evaluation. In 1972 the Population Center was established with support from the National Institute of Health. Later the Population Information Program and Population Communication Services were established, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. PIP publishes Population Reports, an international journal on family planning issues, and maintains Popline, the world's largest bibliographic database of over 220,000 records, published and unpublished. PCS provides technical assistance, training and financial support to family planning programs in more than 65 countries. In 1988, PIP and PCS formed the Center for Communication Programs, now recognized as an international leader in the field of family planning and reproductive health communications. Today the department has expanded its research agenda to include child survival, adolescent reproductive health issues and aging, and has established a multidisciplinary Center for Aging Research, supported by the NIH. Also driving the department's social science research agenda are the profound changes occurring in American family patterns over the past 25 years, including the dramatic rise in cohabitation. But, with world population reaching 5.7 billion and projected to grow to 8 billion by 2020, family planning remains a priority. "Over the past 25 years, while the composition and delivery systems have improved, there have been no fundamental advances in contraceptive technology, especially for males," Mosley says. "This represents a challenge for the department's fundamental research in reproductive biology, which is building the knowledge base for not only new contraceptives, but also for safer and healthier reproductive outcomes for the few births that women do want to have."
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