Experts: Family planning is a necessary tool to achieve SDGs

A cross-section of delegates at the just-concluded 5th International Conference on Family Planning at Kigali Convention Centre yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi.

In a world where sexual reproductive health and family planning rights are not a priority, sustainable growth will remain a mirage.

This is an observation shared by many experts and other participants at the just concluded International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali.

Mark Bryan Schreiner, the UNFPA Country director, told The New Times that achieving Sustainable Development Goals will significantly depend on how well sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people are fulfilled.”

Experts estimate that achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by 2030 and eliminating unmet need for modern contraception by 2040 could realise health and economic benefits worth $120 for each dollar spent, in addition to reducing newborn and maternal deaths and school dropouts due to early pregnancies.

To put it into context, every Rwf1000 invested in family planning can save government Rwf2,200 in maternal care health costs, which makes family planning one of the most cost-effective investments a society can make, Schreiner said.

Experts say that the world is entering a particularly “critical moment”, as more than half of the world’s 1.2 billion young people (aged 10-19) live in developing countries and many still lack access to contraceptives.

Greater access to reproductive health services, stakeholders says, could enable this generation of young people to plan their pregnancies – thereby increasing their chances of staying in school, joining the workforce and becoming the next generation of productive adults rearing healthy families and fueling prosperous economies.

This explains why Rwanda looks at family planning and reproductive health as fundamental right for the population, according to officials.

“Family planning in Rwanda is a priority,” says Katty Mugeni, in charge of Maternal and Child and Community Unit in Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC). “We don’t just talk about it but we implement it.”

Manasseh Nsanzabera, a Community Health Worker from Rusizi District, said that higher uptake of family planning not only results into better socio-economic realities, but it also increases life expectancy for mothers.

“It is important to teach people that having spaced births increases the lifespan of a mother. Family planning reduces chances of illness related to giving birth uninterruptedly,” Nsanzabera said.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that approximately 800 women and girls die in emergency every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childhood.

UNFPA’s Schreiner says that access to contraceptive care, as well as newborn health care can prevent these deaths and disability for women and girls in developing countries like Rwanda.

“Women and girls should own the right to choose when, how and to whom they want to give birth with and how many children they want. After all, they are the ones who suffer most from the resultant outcomes,” Schreiner added.

The Demographic Dividend study (October 2017) by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda observed that investing in health, including reproductive health, is needed not only to trigger a demographic transition through declining fertility and mortality rates, but also to ensure that young people make a healthy transition from adolescence into adulthood.

Fertility rate in Rwanda currently stands at 4.2 children per woman.

Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.

Considering the youthful population of Rwanda, aged 15-35, and children aged 0-14 accounts for 38 per cent and 40 per cent of the total population, respectively, compared to 22 per cent of the population above 35 years, the study suggested that the Government of Rwanda should implement targeted and strategic actions required to harness demographic dividends—and unlock the potential of the next generations of healthier, well-educated labour force.

Marie-Claire Iryanyawera, a Family Planning and Reproductive Health Programme analyst for UNFPA Rwanda, told The New Times that the country must invest “heavily” in better health care and education programmes to expand access to contraceptives if it is to promote long-term stability and economic growth.