2nd International Family Planning Conference Opens in Dakar, Senegal

2nd International Family Planning Conference Opens in Dakar, Senegal

Over 2,300 delegates, many colorfully dressed, gathered in Dakar, Senegal  at the jam-packed amphitheatre and two exterior tents of Le Meridien President for the start of this week’s 2nd International Family Planning Conference, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Monica Kerrigan, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said that one third of Africans live in francophone Africa, and yet it has been the most neglected area for family planning services. She praised Senegal for hosting the first family planning conference in French-speaking Africa and urged Senegal to use this opportunity to act boldly and make family planning an urgent priority.

In a video message, Melinda Gates said, “Small investments in family planning are huge dividends for women. “There are 215 million women who don’t want to have a child and yet don’t have access to family planning.” She recently participated in a World Bank- sponsored meeting of finance ministers who used to think that family planning was just a “women’s issue”; “they are now building family planning programs as cost-effective way to foster economic growth in their countries.” Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund said, “Family planning is oxygen—it is a right to get it.”

The Honorable Stephen O’Brien, MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, UK, announced a donation from DFID of 135 million British pounds to the UNFPA for family planning commodities. In a letter read by The Honorable Lewis A. Lukens, US Ambassador to Senegal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “this is the year to commit to access to family planning and to prioritize family planning and the health of women and children.”

The President of Senegal, His Excellency Abdoulaye Wade, welcomed participants to Dakar and affirmed his commitment for Senegal to attain the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 (decreased deaths of mothers and children). He asserted that family planning is “of capital importance” to Senegal and “we are committed to ensuring the well-being of women and children” and saving as many human lives as possible. He called on religious leaders, youth and women and men to be involved in innovative strategies for combating HIV/AIDS and for improving access to family planning with increased referral centers in all regional health facilities. He urged Senegal’s citizens to be responsible for their families and their children and take on the commitment to feed and educate their children and not leave them to the streets.

Goodwill ambassador Mohammed Barry, who has been living with HIV for 14 years, gave an impassioned plea for delegates to work on  including comprehensive family planning programs in all clinics and said that the ambitious goal of an AIDS-free generation cannot be met without family planning.

Souadou Ndoye, another youth leader, called on delegates to see access to family planning as a fundamental human rights issue that required immediate action.

The first full day of the conference begins tomorrow, Wednesday, November 30. There is buzz in the air.

Barbara Ayotte is MSH Director of Strategic Communications and is currently attending the 2nd International Family Planning Conference in Dakar.

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