The Effect of Family Planning on MNCH; How can Africa take advantage of this opportunity?
How would you describe the current status and strategic significance of family Planning in Africa?
Across the continent, progress in creating and meeting the demand for Family planning has been uneven. The situation of married women—who represent the bulk of women with contraceptive needs is on the increase in Africa especially outside North Africa. Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of married women using modern contraceptives increased from 20 per cent to 27 per cent in East Africa and from 54 per cent to 58 per cent in Southern Africa. There has been limited progress in west and central Africa with a prevalence of 9 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively. Nevertheless demand and utilization is still below the level required to facilitate the development objectives we desire as a continent.
With regards to strategic significance, Family planning is a critical element required to address issues of Gender inequalities and maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity as well as other key issues that impact on the development of human capital.
The demographic profile of the continent is at a stage where we should adequately invest in the development of human capital to ensure that we reap the optimal demographic dividend. In this regards, Family planning is a critical element of the interventions necessary.
Despite progress made, HIV still remains a formidable challenge to socio-economic development, therefore family planning continues to feature in the various continental plans and frameworks to confront the epidemic. The dual protection capabilities of Male and Female Condom remain indispensible to the drive to prevent new infections of HIV while prevention of unintended pregnancies among women living with HIV is widely endorsed as an important strategy for preventing vertical transmission of HIV and keeping mothers alive and healthy. Furthermore since women and girls living with HIV are more likely to experience pregnancy complications, and are at a higher risk of maternal death, family planning is indispensible in keeping them alive.
Unnecessary deaths from pregnancy and AIDS related causes result in economic and social catastrophe – depriving families of income and depriving surviving children of nurturing, nutrition, and education. Many African families still lack basic information on the access/use of family planning methods. Continued high birth rates as seen in some parts of the continent defies the demographic transition, proposing a need for renewed efforts. That means that family planning will continue to remain a key strategy to address the social and economic challenges of the population across the continent.
Are African Union Leaders aware of the significance of Family Planning? Are there supportive protocols and guidelines for family planning in Africa?
Yes, the leaders are indeed aware and had endorsed a range of supportive protocols and policy document that address the issue. The Continental Policy Framework on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (2005) and the Maputo Plan of Action (2006) for its implementation, focused new attention on the critical role of family planning in reducing maternal mortality, improving gender equity and increasing socioeconomic development.
Following on the high-level meeting on maternal health in Addis in October 2009, the Conference of African Union Ministers of Health reinforced for policymakers that family planning was an essential component of health and development policy. Therefore the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) was launched with the slogan; Africa Cares, No Woman Should Die While Giving Life. CARMMA has since been serving as an advocacy campaign of the Maputo Plan of Action (MPOA) and thus continues to promote amongst other Family Planning. CARMMA has been launched in 37 AU Member States. Majority of these countries have structured roadmaps set to deliver on their CARMMA commitments which includes a repositioning of Family planning.
The Kampala Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Government in 2010 extended the mandate of the MPoA and further focused continental attention on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health promotion programmes and interventions of which family planning remains a central piece.
What are the current challenges responsible for the gaps observed in Family planning coverage?
There are no gaps in policies, but the gaps exist between policy and implementation. Africa has prioritized family planning since 2005 when the continent developed the continental policy framework on sexual reproductive health and rights. The ideas as espoused by the policies are sufficient so we do not need new ideas or policies but what is required is a step up of implementation
However Africans are very religious people and also have great respect for traditional customs. This to some extent affects how they address issues regarding their health especially with respect to family planning which I must admit remains a controversial issue especially around the deeply traditional and religious societies.
Given the myriads of development challenges that confront the African Union Member states, national government have also been unable to adequately allocate resources to reposition family planning. There remains an over reliance on external sources of funding to maintain Reproductive Health Commodity Security (RHCS) as well as implement family planning programmes and services.
The challenges of human resources for health (HRH) which hinder coverage and effective provision of health services as a whole, further serve to kick family planning of the table on an over burden health worker/centre.
Given the fact that conventional methods of promotion continue to benefit from the innovations of technology, do you believe that social media and the digital revolution sweeping across Africa can be used as a strong tool to reposition family planning on the continent?
The world in contemporary terms has been defined as a ‘global village’. This has been enabled by the digital revolution. Social media can serve as a means for evidence sharing, leverage audience networks to facilitate information dissemination, popularize a campaign and serve as a feedback process. I see a lot of online campaigns around HIV/AIDS issues, and cancer; with ‘tweet meets’ around these issues and several others. More people are more aware of better health practices due to the ease accessing these information online. So I believe that issues on family planning and MNCH in entirety can also benefit from advocacy on these new media channels. In fact, it already is. Most international organizations have online platforms for getting the word out there but, a lot still needs to be done. Africa needs for you, me and everyone to be involved. We must all put our hands to work in ensuring that maternal death is reduced to the barest minimum with family planning playing it role.