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Africa: Health, Policy Experts Gather for Three-Day Conference on Family Planning

November 17, 2009

By offering family planning services to people seeking HIV/AIDS information and treatment, Africa's population growth rate could be curbed by 2.5 percent, health experts said Monday during an international family health conference in Kampala, Uganda, Agence France-Presse reports (11/16).

The conference, which is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University and Makerere University, has brought together "[m]ore than 1,000 policy-makers, researchers, academics and health professionals from 59 countries [for] the three-day conference which began Sunday," IRIN reports (11/17).

"We started to realise that most of the people who were coming to us for HIV/AIDS information are the same people that we needed to be targeting for family planning services," explained Family Health International's Maggwa Ndugga, AFP writes.

"Every year, 75 million women in developing countries have unintended pregnancies and Africa is a significant contributor, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)," the news service writes. "Africa has 239 million women aged between 15 and 49 and who average five births [per woman] compared to Asian women of the same age range who average 3.3 births while Europeans average 1.5, said the Population Reference Bureau" (11/16).

A report released by the Guttmacher Institute on Saturday estimates about 56 percent of all pregnancies in Uganda are unplanned "due to lack of access to modern family planning methods," New Vision/ reports (Baguma, 11/16). The Daily Monitor also examines the report on unplanned pregnancies: "The national unmet need for family planning services is 41 percent. 'Meeting just half of this unmet need would result in 519,000 fewer unintended pregnancies each year, which would lead to 152,000 fewer abortions and 1,600 fewer maternal deaths,' said Dr Mugisha," co-author of the report (Lirri, 11/16).

Uganda's First Lady Janet Museveni on Sunday during the family planning conference "urged men to support their wives in family planning and prevention of maternal and child mortality," New Vision reports in a second story. "The First Lady said there was [a] need to improve maternal and child health by using the multi-sector strategy similar to what Uganda used to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence in the 1980s," the newspaper writes (Baguma/ Nabusoba, 11/16).

IRIN examines the relationship between a need for "effective family planning programmes" in Africa and the ability for the continent to achieve U.N. Millennium Development Goals, as described by health experts at the conference.

"Family planning improves maternal health, thereby increasing women's productivity and reducing dependency at both family and national levels," said Chisale Mhango, director of reproductive health at Malawi's Health Ministry. "Fewer children means manageable education targets; more children means that parents will mainly educate sons, which promotes gender inequality," he added. "The fewer the children the better the care, the more the food, the lower the child mortality and there will be savings for health provision."

IRIN reports that conference attendees are also hoping to "lobby policy-makers to increase funding for family planning. This, participants said, would reduce global humanitarian risks" (11/17).

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