The Femm app has received Catholic church backing but experts say its unreliable as birth control and does not help the vulnerable
US campaigners who oppose the birth control pill have promoted a menstruation tracking app in the most vulnerable communities in rural Nigeria with the backing of the Catholic church, the Guardian has learned.
The app has been downloaded more than 400,000 times globally, according to its developers, and appears to be the first ideologically aligned fertility tracking app.
But leaders of the organization are also promoting the app and teaching the Femm methods of natural family planning in places such as rural Nigeria, where women are at high risk of HIV infection, child marriage and sexual violence.
The Catholic churchs diplomatic arm, the permanent observer mission of the Holy See at the United Nations, has promoted the Femm foundation and its app in speeches and events at the UN headquarters in New York. Femm also received a $100,000 grant from the Papal Foundation.
Video footage uncovered by the Guardian shows a UN event called Affirming the Human Dignity of Rural Women and Girls through Healthcare and Education, where Femms chief executive, Anna Halpine, described the companys work in Nigeria.
The event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women was co-sponsored by the Holy See in March 2018. Halpine showed footage of Femm-trained teachers from an organization called Doctors Health Initiative (DHI) speaking at what appeared to be a camp for displaced people in Nigeria.
The footage shown at the UN side event showed DHIs employees teaching women about natural family planning methods.
Femm promotes its app as a way to help women avoid or achieve pregnancy without hormonal birth control, by tracking their ovulation to determine their most fertile days of the month. However, the app offers no information on its efficacy, and the methods do not protect against sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV.
Natural family planning methods have an up to 33% failure rate per 100 women per year, according to the most recent review in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Nigerian women are among the worlds most vulnerable to maternal mortality, HIV infection, sexual violence, forced child marriage and genital mutilation. Abortion is illegal in Nigeria under almost all circumstances. These laws are a major contributor to the countrys high levels of maternal death, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Halpine was introduced at the event by Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the permanent observerer of the Holy See to the United Nations, who said: Various contemporary approaches to what is referred to as sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights do not respect this full dignity of the woman.
There is another way, a way in line with her dignity, a way that treats femininity in all its aspects as a gift rather than an imperfection, a disease, or a curse Femm is a method that does just this. It is a comprehensive womens health program, said Auza.
The Guardian contacted Halpine by phone and email, but she did not respond to questions. The permanent observer mission of the Holy See at the United Nations referred the Guardian back to statements made by Auza.
At the event, Halpine told an audience that the Femm Foundation offered reproductive health education in the most vulnerable communities in rural Nigeria, including in camps for people displaced by the Boko Haram terror group.
DHI describes itself as a non-profit organization working in displaced persons camps in places such as Edo state in southern Nigeria, and Femm describes DHI as a partner.