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Ensuring Family Planning Access: African Leaders Should Do More

Rose is a mother of four, with a fifth on the way. At a time when she should be eagerly awaiting the birth of her child, she is instead worried about how to prevent her next pregnancy.
She’d like to wait at least two years, but she doesn’t have that say because she doesn’t have access to family planning. Rose’s story isn’t unique, although she is one in a million.
Correction – she is one in 215 million. That’s how many women around the world today know they need modern contraception. And the numbers who do not know are even higher. In Namibia, just 53% of married women use contraceptives regularly. On average each woman will have three children in her lifetime, and has a 1 in 160 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.
It is the fundamental human right of couples and individuals to control their fertility, to choose whether and when to have children, and how many to have. This right, though affecting women most, is often denied them through cultural, legal or religious requirements of various kinds. Such denial, overt or covert, is an injustice to women and leads to much unnecessary suffering and death.  Overall, 30 to 36% of women in union have a felt need for contraception, which is not being satisfied.
This results in unplanned and unintended pregnancies. With inadequate or even poor health care services and facilities such pregnancies are more likely to result in maternal injury or death, and poor health for infants and children. In Namibia, ensuring family planning use is therefore a key strategy to reducing maternal, infant, and child deaths, which remain unacceptably high.
Yet family planning is not just about women. It is about the rights, health and socio-economic development of men and young people also, and it is about entire communities and nations. Family planning is about sustainable consumption and development of the world’s resources for mankind.
Helping individuals to plan their families reduces poverty by enabling increased productivity and broad economic development in turn.
Recent studies show that investing in contraceptive services could yield as much as a four-fold return in medical cost savings, making it one of the most cost-effective development approaches out there.
Whether each of us realises it yet or not, we all have a role to play. Last month, the world’s population surpassed seven billion. It’s an impressive milestone that signifies both achievements and grave responsibilities. We must work to protect the health, well-being, and rights of those on our planet, whilst ensuring that individuals can plan their families and contribute to the balance between our numbers and resource use.
Leaders and advocates in Namibia know this. On Thursday, 29 November to 2 December, Namibian reproductive health advocates joined nearly 2 000 policy makers, researchers, and donors from around the world in Dakar, Senegal for the International Conference on Family Planning.
The timing and location of this meeting are significant – it will be the largest meeting of its kind aimed at signifying a true renaissance in both funding and political will for this issue. The event is purposefully set in West Africa, where women have some of the highest fertility rates, lowest contraceptive usage and the highest unmet needs for contraception in the world.
Now of all times, African leaders have a momentous opportunity to demonstrate leadership on this issue, and set the bar high for donors, policy makers, and advocates worldwide.  In the face of such high unmet family planning needs here in Namibia and in Africa generally all levels of leadership political religious and traditional cannot and should not stand idly by.
As advocates, we must build on this momentum and call on our own leaders, in Namibia and across Africa to champion access to family planning. We must also hold donor governments accountable for their commitments. We can do better at delivering the solutions we have, and be more innovative in developing new approaches to meeting contraceptive needs.

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