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Reflections from a Family Planning Conference in Nairobi

The Africa Exchange Meeting of the Expanding Services Delivery Project (ESD) held last week in Nairobi offered opportunities for learning about promising inroads in increasing access to reproductive health and family planning. The workshop included representatives from throughout Africa and international organizations. As Senior Technical Advisor for IntraHealth, (we are partners on the ESD project which is led by Pathfinder International) some of the highlights I found noteworthy include:

The message of health timing and spacing of pregnancy links family planning with maternal and child health which everyone supports. As keynote speaker Khama Rogo, World Bank health-sector specialist and IntraHealth Board member, noted, “Family planning is to maternal health what immunizations are to child health.” This message resonates with policymakers and conservative communities that are sometime less enthusiastic about the term family planning.  We learned that in Northern Nigeria organizations are able to promote this message with religious leaders who in turn help spread the word among the community. In Northern Kenya, another traditional Muslim community, introducing standard day’s method through Cycle beads has gained traction as a more acceptable form of birth spacing than condoms or hormonal methods.

ESD has also contributed to the Health Images of Men (HIM) model that private sector companies such as Unilever Tea in Kenya and Tanzania are adapting to their communities. Peer educators share messages and role model behaviors around family responsibilities and family planning. A photo of a man with a his baby strapped to his back in the manner that women carry their infants provoked lots of interesting discussion on gender roles!

The role of community health workers as vital access points to family planning also featured in the workshop with many examples of successful pilot projects that could be scaled up to  increase access especially for vulnerable populations and those in hard to reach areas.

In all, lots of rich ideas and I left the meeting more optimistic about the prospects for meeting the huge unmet needs that continue to exist for reproductive health in sub Saharan Africa.