How Senegal is expanding access to family planning

Janet Fleischman
Senior Associate, CSIS Global Health Policy Center
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Anta Ba is a 26-year-old woman living in Guédiawaye, a poor urban area of Senegal’s capital, Dakar.  In a new CSIS video, Anta explains why she decided to access family planning, despite her husband’s opposition, and why these services matter for her own life and for women’s health and empowerment in Senegal. Through her story, and through the voices of other champions of family planning in Senegal—government and NGO health workers, an imam, and the Minister of Health—the video illustrates new approaches to expanding access to family planning as well as the challenges ahead.

The video was released at a vibrant CSIS event on April 27 called “Partnerships to Advance Family Planning in Senegal: Lessons for U.S. Policy,” which featured the minister of health, Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck. In her keynote address, Dr. Coll Seck passionately articulated her commitment to family planning for the health and development of her country and the Francophone West African subregion:

“You can understand my enthusiasm in defending such a cause considering my activism in women’s rights. And my role as a mother, because I am also a mother, and grandmother; and as a medical doctor. But also after listening to people, men and women, in my own country but also in many corners in Africa…. This is not a story of Senegal alone, it’s a story of all Africa but at least let us do something clear for the West African countries.”

Two panels focused on implementation and funding for family planning in Senegal and the subregion. The first panel – with Dr. Bocar Mamadou Daff from Senegal’s Ministry of Health, Pape Gaye from IntraHealth, and Maaike Van Min from Marie Stopes International – delved into the new approaches to advance access to family planning and the importance of the leadership and coordination by the Ministry of Health. Valuable lessons are emerging from Senegal’s experience, including the Informed Push Model to eliminate stock-outs of contraceptives, integration of family planning with immunizations, mobile clinics to reach vulnerable women, and engagement with religious communities and civil society. Yet all the panelists agreed that clear challenges remain for continued progress, such as addressing the reproductive health needs of young people, expanding the engagement of religious leaders, building a multisectoral response, and attracting private sector support for greater sustainability.

The donor perspectives on funding were the subject of the second panel, which included Katie Taylor from USAID, Nomi Fuchs-Montgomery from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Fatimata Sy from the Ouagadougou Partnership. They all emphasized the importance of building on public-private partnerships and attracting new donors for family planning in Senegal and for the subregion, as well as the critical role of country-led, costed plans and political will to ensure progress. Taylor noted that since USAID’s primary health goal is to end preventable maternal and child deaths, family planning has to be a critical intervention, and that Senegal’s progress demonstrates why these investments are so effective. Fuchs-Montgomery underscored the foundation’s approach to ensuring that their investments in Senegal and Niger are leveraged by other donors, with the aim of improving women’s health and accelerating a regional demographic transition. To accomplish this, she emphasized, will require leadership, partnerships, and perseverance. Speaking from a regional perspective, Sy noted the importance of donors aligning with countries’ national plans, and expressed her concern that despite costed plans, significant funding gaps remain.  Fragile progress will require continued outside funding, Sy added.

Dr. Coll Seck forthrightly addressed several key challenges Senegal faces, specifically addressing the need to improve access to information and services, especially for adolescents, young people and vulnerable populations; the need for country leadership and supportive policies; and the need to increase the involvement of religious leaders, civil society, and the private sector. She called for investing in youth and targeting reproductive health services for adolescents and linked this to broader health, development, and security, as well as to illegal immigration.

On funding, she acknowledged one of their major challenges is to “reduce our dependency on external resources.” She thanked the donors for their support, but added: “Our political will must be accompanied by domestic resource mobilization and innovative financing.” However, she stressed the importance of ongoing support from Senegal’s partners: “If the partners are not continuing to support us, then I think we will lose this momentum and all the results that we have. Because all of this is fragile.”

Dr. Coll Seck celebrated the progress but emphasized the need to keep going: “We are all happy because things are improving, but we don’t have to stop here. We have a lot of things to do. And we need to maintain this momentum.” She closed with a final call to action: “With family planning, we are able to empower women, we are able to decrease maternal mortality, we are able to focus on adolescents—our future. I think that we will do a lot for our countries, our continent, and the world.”

A separate interview by CSIS with Dr. Coll Seck can be found here. More information about family planning in Senegal from CSIS can be found here.

This article is published in collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Janet Fleischman is a Senior Associate at CSIS Global Health Policy Center. 

Image: A mother and daughter walk home. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly 

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