Fam­ily plan­ning for ‘health­ier, wealth­ier’ Africa: Melinda Gates ‘Fam­ily plan­ning is im­per­a­tive that it’s vol­un­tary’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Fam­ily plan­ning helps peo­ple in Africa to be health­ier and wealth­ier, as women with­out con­tra­cep­tives be­come locked in “a cy­cle of poverty,” Melinda Gates told AFP as a con­fer­ence on the topic was held in Ivory Coast. “When a woman has ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tives she can lift her­self out of poverty, and if she doesn’t have ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tives, it locks her in­side a cy­cle of poverty for the rest of her life,” said the wife of Mi­crosoft co-founder and bil­lion­aire Bill Gates, whose foun­da­tion is very ac­tive in the field.

“Fam­ily plan­ning has huge health ben­e­fits for the woman and for her chil­dren, and it has eco­nomic ben­e­fits,” Gates told AFP by tele­phone from the Ivo­rian eco­nomic capital Abid­jan dur­ing the fifth an­nual meet­ing of a West African part­ner­ship on the topic. Ex­perts from nine coun­tries met in Abid­jan with tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial back­ers in the Oua­gadougou Part­ner­ship, which aims to bring fam­ily plan­ning to 2.2 mil­lion more peo­ple across the re­gion by 2020. “If (a woman) has less chil­dren and can space them, she is less likely to die. Her chil­dren grow up health­ier and the fam­ily is wealth­ier,” said Melinda Gates.

De­mo­graphic div­i­dend

“Fam­ily plan­ning is ab­so­lutely part and par­cel of eco­nomic devel­op­ment, just like agri­cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion,” she added, stress­ing that “it’s im­per­a­tive that it’s vol­un­tary. “The woman has to be ed­u­cated about it and de­cide if she wants to use it. There are ex­am­ples all over the world. If you co­erce peo­ple, that is not a thing to do... China has backed away from its pol­icy. “One thing you see more and more African coun­tries talk about is the ‘de­mo­graphic div­i­dend’. They know they want to bring down their ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rate, they know it will help lift peo­ple out of poverty and ul­ti­mately in­crease their GDP (gross do­mes­tic prod­uct).”

The Oua­gadougou Part­ner­ship ac­knowl­edges that the goal of 2.2 mil­lion women in five years “may seem low”, but ar­gues on its web­site that the tar­get is “in re­al­ity very am­bi­tious” in light of lim­ited funds, so­cio-cul­tural bar­ri­ers, a low con­tra­cep­tive preva­lence rate and “timid po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment.” Gates is more up­beat, since an ini­tial tar­get of one mil­lion women has al­ready been ex­ceeded. In her eyes, on­go­ing success de­pends on ed­u­cat­ing “the power struc­tures-hus­band and faith lead­ers-around the women, and then you talk to the women.”

“I’ve been to dusty vil­lages in re­mote places in Niger and talked to women who know about fam­ily plan­ning and are us­ing it. I said, ‘I’m skep­ti­cal. How is the word go­ing to get out?’“We’re get­ting the word out,’” women replied. “‘We meet. We meet at the well, when we grind mil­let, when a new baby is born. We know we’re not get­ting enough wa­ter, it’s not rain­ing as much, we’re not get­ting much off our farms. We want to have less chil­dren ... and we’re ed­u­cat­ing our sis­ters’.”

Life-and-death emer­gency

Re­li­gious lead­ers in Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties have ac­cepted that “fam­ily plan­ning is al­lowed even in the Ko­ran,” said the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion. “When you meet with faith lead­ers, they will tell you they know a mother, a sis­ter, a wife that died in child­birth. They know it’s bet­ter for women to use con­tra­cep­tives, so you have to start there.” In Niger, one of the world’s poor­est coun­tries with the high­est global birthrate at 7.6 ba­bies per woman, schools for hus­bands have started and men have be­gun to un­der­stand that the best op­tion for their chil­dren to sur­vive into adult­hood is to have fewer of them, rather than more.

“When fam­ily sizes come down... and they’re only feed­ing two chil­dren so they’ve got more in­come on what comes out of their farm,” Gates said. Such fam­i­lies set a com­pelling ex­am­ple, but med­i­cal fol­low-up is vi­tal. Gates met a woman in Niger with a tiny plot of land and six chil­dren to raise while her hus­band was off look­ing for work. “I can’t have more chil­dren. Can’t you see that this is a life-and-death emer­gency for me?” Gates quoted the woman as say­ing, but no con­tra­cep­tives were avail­able. “The gov­ern­ments have to fix the sup­ply chain and make sure women have ac­cess,” she said. —AFP

PARIS: This file photo taken shows Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion Melinda Gates pos­ing in Paris. —AFP

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