Key gains for Africa at family planning forum

Book of sexual education next to a notebook, conceptual image. [Getty Images]

The global push for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) has been around for at least seven decades. Africa still lags behind the rest of the world, however. There is need to intensify the pace of awareness and uptake of the benefits of SRHR education. There is also need to improve the legal and regulatory environment for SRHR, 70 years since bold public discourse on planned parenthood came in the open.  

Small groups of bold women came together, in the 1950s, determined to sensitise communities and families around the world on sexual and reproductive health. They took humankind into spaces that had, hitherto, been considered taboo in many societies. Seven decades later, the conversation has spread to the four corners of the globe. It is addressing a wide slate of issues on SRHR, both through local and global initiatives. Yet a lot more remains to be done.  

In Africa, for instance, great strides have been made towards provision of reproductive health education and services. Even consciousness of what needs to be done may represent movement. But we must move from awareness to practice, by addressing a number of critical things. These include reform of abortion laws, more sex and reproductive health education, advocacy, and provision and use of contraceptives.

In some countries, such as Benin, the legal environment has gone ahead of time to address harmful colonial laws that have survived the years. In Kenya, there is need to decriminalise access to safe abortion, by reforming the laws and policies on access and procurement of abortion. Elsewhere, the US government and Congress need to pass the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act, which would end US interference in what NGOs do with their own money.

Sexual reproductive health development partners and donors, for their part, need to put their money where their mouth is. The current funding space has been outpaced by advocacy. It needs to close up the gap. Indeed, poor funding slows down even education and advocacy services in stigmatic environments. Slowing down of advocacy is not the kind of closing of the gap required. Rather, it is the bridging of the gap through funding that moves the benefits of education and advocacy closer to the desired goals.

Such are some of the concerns that have emerged from the Sixth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), in Pattaya, Thailand. ICFP is a movement towards universal access to family planning services, contraception, and other SRHR resources.

For nearly 12 years, the ICFP community has worked to move family planning and reproductive health priorities to the center of development. Since the first ICFP in Kampala, Uganda in 2009, ICFP has served as a strategic inflection point for the global reproductive health community. It has been a global stage for countries, organisations, and individuals to make important commitments and celebrate achievements at the world’s largest scientific conference on family planning and reproductive health.

But ICFP has also become more than a conference. It has evolved into a platform for researchers, advocates, governments, and communities towards achieving access to family planning for all. It is growing into a professional community, guided by the spirit of partnership, inclusivity, innovation, and scientific rigor.

The three-day meeting in Thailand had over 5,000 in-person participants and more online. It had an unprecedented number of discussions on abortion. There was momentum, as well, on the discussions on the prevalence of contraceptives and the rate of uptake of family planning in various countries. African countries, like Kenya, were lauded for high uptake of contraceptives, especially among the youth.

Dr Akol is Regional Director, Ipas Africa Alliance