In 2011, nine francophone West African countries formed the Ouagadougou Partnership to change the story of family planning in the region. Thanks to their efforts, an additional 1.18 million women are using modern contraceptives today.*
For these women, this means more control over when to get pregnant and better health for them and their families. For the countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) that make up the partnership, it means fewer maternal deaths, potential economic progress, and savings in health and education expenditures.
For decades the average modern contraceptive prevalence rate in the francophone countries of West Africa hovered around 12% and the total fertility rate averaged five children per woman, indicators that lagged far behind Asia, Latin American, and other regions of Africa.
The partnership set a collective goal—one that seemed ambitious in 2011—of reaching one million new women with modern contraceptives by 2015. In an era of public national commitments (the Climate Change Conference of Parties, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Global Health Security Agenda to name just a few), skeptics may question their value, but the Ouagadougou Partnership stands out for having achieved its goal and honored its commitments. Last month, at the partnership’s annual meeting, members celebrated this achievement, shared what’s working, and set the course for the next five years.
The partnership includes country governments, donors, key partners, and civil society and private sector representatives all working together to improve health and encourage social and economic development across the region. This level of coordination isn’t easy, but here are seven ways the partnership has been changing the status quo—and maybe leading francophone West Africa to a contraceptive revolution:
- Prioritizing the leadership and commitment of country governments. Country governments committed to the partnership by agreeing to the goal, setting national objectives, and developing national costed implementation plans. They worked quickly to develop these plans and have reported progress and challenges at each partnership annual meeting.
- Aligning donor investments and resources in the region. The donors have worked closely to share their funding strategies, discuss potential investments, and align their funding across the countries, looking for opportunities to complement each other and fund the needs prioritized by the countries in their costed implementation plans. Between 2012 and 2014, donors invested an additional $29 million in the region—a 36% increase in funding.
- Using data to track progress and make decisions. Donors, the Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit, and the countries all agreed to adopt a methodology set forth by Track20, which provides reliable, comparable data. The partnership uses data to assess progress and monitor country contributions to the overall goal.
- Engaging religious leaders. Across the region, religious leaders are emerging as champions and speaking in favor of family planning to ensure the healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies. In fact, champions from Senegal, Niger, Togo, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Mauritania worked together at the annual meeting to issue a declaration in support of the partnership.
- Cultivating youth advocates.Young voices are increasing in volume across the region as youth advocates mobilize their peers to promote family planning and hold governments accountable. The partnership has cultivated youth ambassadors who presented their advocacy efforts at last month’s meeting and coined the meeting’s refrain: The contraceptive revolution has begun.
- Galvanizing the family planning community and leveraging global initiatives such as FP2020. There is a sense that francophone West Africa is on the move, and the number of agencies, projects, and initiatives in the region that want to be part of the partnership continues to increase. The established collaboration between the partnership and FP2020 permits the region to have a stronger connection and visibility to global family planning and reproductive health movements, and the partnership’s coordination unit provides a mechanism for aligning efforts and partners.
- Fostering conversations among West Africans. The partnership and the annual meetings provide space for greater dialogue among West Africans passionate about family planning to discuss how they can collectively work together to bring about positive development in their countries. In December, members were particularly eager to explore how family planning may help their countries achieve and benefit from the demographic dividend—a period of accelerated economic growth that can result from a decline in a country's birth and death rates and the subsequent change in the age structure of the population. In fact, one of the most spirited sessions at the annual meeting was on whether the timeline needed to achieve the “dividend” could be accelerated.
The demographic dividend is not a guarantee, and there is still much to be done, but members are eager to accelerate progress. In December, members set a new goal of an additional 2.2 million women using modern contraceptives by 2020.
At their core, family planning commitments are about healthier families and communities. And that’s at least 2.2 million reasons why the Ouagadougou Partnership remains inspired and committed to change.
The Ouagadougou Partnership includes the country governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo; donors including the US Agency for International Development, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Agency for Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; key partners such as the West African Health Organization, UNFPA, World Health Organization, and FP2020; and civil society and private sector representatives. Based in Dakar, Senegal, the Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit is primarily funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is managed by IntraHealth International.
* An additional 1.18 million women across the nine countries are using modern contraceptives compared to 2011