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October 14, 2011

Senegalese government supporting ‘small revolution’ in family planning

Dr. Bocar Daff, Director of Reproductive Health in Senegal Photo Credit Dominic Chavez

In 1990, the average Senegalese woman had 6.7 children during her reproductive years. By 2009, that number had significantly dropped. According to the Ministry of Health and Prevention, Senegalese women are now, on average, having 4.8 children during their reproductive years. This reduction, taking place over a span of almost 20 years, has been a long time coming as the Senegalese government has been encouraging family planning utilization across the country in state-run hospitals and clinics. In fact, the Ministry of Health and Prevention has doubled its budget for reproductive health. And within the reproductive health budget, UNFPA reports that the proportion donated to family planning has also been doubled.

Attitudes around family planning use are changing across Senegal, IRIN news reports. “There is a small revolution going on - husbands and imams who were traditionally against any kind of family planning are slowly starting to accept it,” said Ephie Diouf, 31, a child-minder in Dakar. Not only have some religious leaders’ individual attitudes changed, but their outreach to the community regarding family planning is also evolving. Catholic and Muslim leaders are educating people that spacing births by using contraceptives is not against the Bible or the Koran. A midwife from Senegal reported that her local imam now tells families that, “Family planning is not banned in Islam… Religion is about well-being, and spacing children is part of that.”

However, there is still progress to be made as some religious leaders continue to be skeptical.  “There are imams who are for family planning, but I am not. I tell worshippers they need to increase the size of the global Muslim family,” said Talibouya Ka, an imam in Dakar.

Besides increases in cultural acceptance, many people’s views about family planning are changing as it is an issue increasingly linked to the economy. Local politicians are recognizing that potential economic growth is being counteracted by a rapidly increasing population.

The gradual acceptance of contraceptive use is making the government’s support of family planning even more vital for Senegal’s success. While people may want to use family planning now, they have to be able to access it. Many have reported erratic availability of contraceptives. The unreliable commodity chain has meant that women have been paying more for birth control than the government-set price, a possible deterrent to use.

Recognizing these barriers, the Ministry of Health and Prevention’s additional family planning funding is being used to ensure contraceptives are stocked at government pharmacies and medical centers. By ministerial directive, contraceptives are now mandated to be routinely ordered at these locations.

The importance of government support of reproductive health commodity chains was recently highlighted at a UNFPA high level meeting. There, country ownership was emphasized as the basis for providing a reliable supply of reproductive health supplies and the Global Program to Enhance Reproductive Health Commodity Security stressed that donors should work through national channels to strengthen commodity chains.  

At the high level meeting, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin stated that governments need to contribute the required resources and political will to change cultural norms and beliefs and strengthen health infrastructure. And as the beliefs towards family planning are evolving in Senegal, the Ministry of Health and Prevention is following through in trying to make contraceptives more available and accessible.

In Senegal