MSH family planning project highlighted in Angola Press

HEADLINE: Expert Urges African Countries to Embrace Family Planning

BRAZZAVILLE, CONGO (SEPTEMBER 7, 2004) — Sub-Saharan Africans can enjoy better health quality by taming population explosion and arresting the spiraling maternal and infant mortality rates through effective family planning and improved reproductive health practices, a health management expert has recommended.

According a WHO report presented at the just-ended 54th session of the Africa Regional Committee meeting in Brazzaville , Congo , maternal deaths and disabilities in Africa could reach 2.5 million and 49 million respectively, in the next decade if urgent action is not taken to improve maternal health.

The report revealed that maternal deaths and disabilities could result in 7.5 million child deaths and an economic loss of 45 billion US dollars to the region over the next ten years.

At the same time Africa , which accounts for only 10 percent of the world's population has about the highest population growth rate, while agriculture and other sectors of production are lagging in a continent saddled with a disproportionately high level of disease burden, poverty, recurring civil conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies.

"But with good family planning and reproductive health practices anchored on deliberate birth-spacing, the high maternal and infant deaths in Africa can be curbed while women and their children can enjoy good quality of life," said Issakha Diallo, Project Director of Advance Africa , a consortium of six health advocacy organizations.

The public health expert, who attended the WHO/AFRO Regional Committee meeting told PANA that child spacing would ensure good health for the family, and enable it to plan better for the proper upbringing of children.

According to him, a strong and healthy woman is crucial to the survival of the contemporary African family and by extension the society, the nation, and the world.

"It is counter-productive for an African family to continue to produce children it cannot cater for," said Diallo, whose Management Sciences for Health, is the prime contractor in the six-agency consortium, that also groups the Academy for Educational Development, Centre for African Family Studies, Deliot te Touche Tohmatsu Emerging Market, Family Health International and the Forum for African Women Educationists, under Advance Africa.

The Senegalese physician, who has worked to promote public health in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 20 years, said although world attention on the HIV/AIDS and high maternal and child mortality rates might have turned donor focus away from family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programmes, poor reproductive health practices, especially inadequate birth-spacing, contributed as much if not more to maternal and child mortality as does the HIV/AIDS pandemic now ravaging the continent.

Yet, the contribution of good FP/RH practices to reducing the spread of HIV/AID S , has also received little recognition, he stressed.

Diallo, who has worked extensively with the international donor community, such as the World Bank, WHO, UNICEF, the European Union and Advance Africa`s key supporter, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), on major international public health programmes, said excellent results could be achieved through sustained sensitisation and public awareness campaigns including the use of faith-based organizations, like Advance Africa is doing.

According to him, the organisation has shown that good practices can work from its family planning and reproduction health initiatives in the DR Congo and Mozambique.

He cited a cultural practice by a tribe in DR Congo, where husbands are strictly forbidden from having sexual relations with their wives for up to 12 months after delivery, while pregnancy by a lactating woman is considered a taboo.

"An effective family planning and reproductive healthcare policy can be built around this cultural practice and if healthcare providers can take time to persuade and explain to women and the men the benefits of proper birth-spacing, better results can be achieved," Diallo noted.

He said the use of contraceptives, one of the methods encouraged by Advance Africa, has equally proved very effective in not only preventing unwanted pregnancies, but also providing protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

In working with adolescents, Advance Africa also promotes the "ABC" approach - Abstain, Be faithful, or use a Condom.

It also seeks to provide information and youth-friendly services to in-school and out-of-school adolescents through various partners.

Set up in 2000, the Arlington, Virginia-based organisation works with various partners to increase the awareness and impact of Family Planning and Reproductive Health on the health and well- being of families.