Experts say rapid population growth in Africa undermines economic development and hampers efforts for families to create a better standard of living. In the next decade some sub-Saharan African countries are projected to triple their population. Poverty persists in these societies, where many people live on less than a dollar a day.
Part of the solution may lie in new efforts to ramp up education on family planning. Womancare Global is trying to provide access to affordable reproductive health technologies. CEO Saundra Pelletier said her organization works to get family planning to markets where its absence endangers entire families and communities. Many women in Africa as in the world over still lack access to contraceptives and other family health services, she said.
An international conference on family planning in Senegal brought together participants to share research on how to best deliver family planning. The conference was co-sponsored by a number of international organizations, including USAID, UNFPA (U.N. population fund), WHO, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The unmet need is still significant,” said Pelletier. “250 million women still have an unmet need for modern contraceptives -- so the conference was a call to action to look at every piece of the puzzle and how all these organizations can better integrate together.”
Family planning is slowly becoming an accepted practice in many developing nations, but in Africa the rate is still low.
Location vs. Access
In some parts of the continent, however, the percentage of women in rural areas with access to maternal health intervention is relatively high.
Location should not be a factor is a woman’s ability to receive important health services, Pelletier said.
“Our fundamental core belief is that no matter where a woman is her access to reproductive health should be easy.”
Experts say that many factors, including a large rural population, have contributed to population growth in Africa. Cultural values stress the importance of large families, putting pressure on women to have children, even if it endangers their health.
“When women are empowered about how many children they can have…and the spacing of those children, it’s not just her that benefits. It the other children in the family, it’s her significant other,” she said.
It is not just women who need education. In many rural and urban areas, men still maintain a strong control over family health decisions. Pelletier says they must be involved in any strategies that affect the family.
“You also have to make sure you talk to the male constituents…. All these men dominate the decision making around healthcare for their families.”
In 1994, delegates to an international meeting agreed that family planning should be an integral part of reproductive health. The International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo issued a program of action that called for “the provision of universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning and sexual health.”
But almost two decades after the conference, advocates say that there has been little progress. Experts say family planning services are needed now more than ever as the world population soars. It’s expected to reach nine billion by 2050.