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December 02, 2011

Inside a ministry: A leader and his creative use of advocacy

  Dr. Bocar Daff (center) participates in a panel on advocacy at the International Conference on Family Planning


When global health experts think of advocacy, the first image often is of NGO and civil society groups making their points to policymakers in government. But now emerging is a different type of advocacy: inside Ministries of Health in the developing world, many officials are refining their advocacy talents to get the attention of the senior leaders.

One good example is the director of Senegal’s Reproductive Health Division (DSR), Dr. Bocar Daff. He has advocating for a higher profile of the reproductive health and family planning division in his Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Dr. Daff told the audience at the International Family Planning Conference that when his division was created in 2001 an odd thing happened: the status of family planning and reproductive health actually slipped. He said it happened because by making it a separate division, the issue lost some supporters in the ministry. Those leaders saw the issue now as someone else’s priority.

Dr. Daff said that he and his division staff had to start from scratch to gain more internal support. His initial plan was to create a strategic plan and a road map aimed at meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Once his division had a plan backed by facts and figures, they presented it to senior leaders in the ministry.

“We must be clear of where we are going,” Dr. Daff said. “We must disseminate targeted, precise messages,” to ministry leaders and parliamentarians, he said.

Dr. Daff had other strategies as well. One was to look for opportunities. And one of the best opportunities, he said, was to get stories before local media.

“It all began with a field visit [to a clinic] when a journalist came along,” Dr. Daff said. “He wrote an article and it got published.”

After the publication, Dr. Daff was called into his superior’s office and was questioned about how the journalist knew all of this information. The questioning didn’t stop there. It led to a wider discussion about the information. Dr. Daff realized that the publicity was getting his work noticed in the Ministry.

“All the hierarchy in the ministry will call me after a journalist has published something to discuss all the points, wanting to follow up,” Dr. Daff said.

The follow-up has led to the highest levels of the Senegalese government. At the opening plenary, President Adoulaye Wade pledged $500 million CFAs (roughly US $1 million) to the procurement of contraceptives. This increased the division’s budget by 15 percent.

“For some time now, we really could not say that there were champions of high level family planning advocacy. As of yesterday [at the opening plenary] we have seen a reversal of this trend with the President,” Dr. Daff said.

Dr. Daff isn’t through. The next target: making his division a full directorate in the ministry, with a budget that allows for a much more ambitious agenda to improve reproductive health in Senegal.

In Senegal