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June 29, 2011

Gaye: Family planning is a bargain when it comes to investments in health

 Pape Amadou Gaye

Pape Amadou Gaye, president and CEO of IntraHealth International, spent yesterday on Capitol Hill talking about the importance of family planning in West Africa, including his native Senegal. He has three decades of leadership in international health with extensive field experience in Africa and has been the leader for seven years of IntraHealth, which has 20 offices worldwide and 500 employees.

Gaye talked with John Donnelly about his messages to Congress on family planning. This is the second in a two-part series; the first story was an interview with Dr. Bocar Daff, head of reproductive health in Senegal’s Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Q:  What’s your most important message on family planning in Africa to tell members of Congress?

A: For me, it’s time for revitalizing family planning in Francophone Africa. We are lagging behind in so many ways. We are ranked last in the world, in fact. There is an untold story about what a big impact USAID made in family planning in the 1980s. But then USAID decided to close its doors, and we lost all those gains.

Q: Can you attribute the losses only to USAID?

A: It had a big impact. USAID and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) were the big players. USAID was really the only source of technical assistance. Before, when it had been giving lots of support, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger, all very different countries, were making lots of progress. We really lost ground. Now we see a lot of actors in a lot of countries working in global health. There’s a big emphasis on HIV/AIDS. The little support that remained for family planning was almost all gone.

Q: So how do you persuade donors to start investing in family planning?

A: It’s all about combating poverty. Family planning may be one of the best bargains in the world when it comes to investments in health. All the African countries are looking at Singapore or Thailand as models for them. Those countries made family planning a central part of their economic development strategy. We need our leaders in Africa to get fully engaged. The US has always played a role as a catalyst.

Q: Some US congressmen object to family planning because they also see it as supporting abortion. How do you respond?

A: Some confusion seems to exist in the whole debate on abortion and supporting international programs. The most important argument for family planning is it will allow us to put women at the center of economic development in the region. It allows us to educate them and make gains in food security.

The other main issue we face is the bad economic situation around the world. Getting people here in the US to understand why they should support global health in general is not easy. But I’m a subscriber to the argument of enlightment, that we all benefit from it and all of us have an interest in doing this work. A healthy planet is good for security and good for the economic development.