Updates from the OPCU: A Readout from the Region

The OPCU recently hosted a webinar, Family Planning in a Humanitarian Crisis: How to Maintain Services and Strengthen the Resilience of Populations and Health Systems, as a chance to continue conversations raised at the OP annual meeting in December. Watch the recording here, or read an excerpt of the meeting below.

The Ouagadougou Partnership (OP) celebrated the progress achieved from 10 years of collaboration during its ninth annual meeting in December 2020. The results have been impressive, with more than 3.8 million additional family planning users between 2011 and 2020. Unfortunately, the region has also been affected in the past decade by many crises, including rising extremism and terrorism in the Sahel region, internal conflicts, hazards, political instability, and infectious disease outbreaks such as Ebola and COVID-19.

Recently, the OPCU organized three sessions to allow the community to discuss certain themes of importance to the region in greater depth. One focused on providing family planning services during a humanitarian crisis — a topic relevant not just to the OP region, but also to the whole family planning community, as we continue to see health care systems strain to respond to COVID-19. This session provided an opportunity for the OP community to deepen its reflection on the challenges to provide family planning in emergencies and to share experiences and lessons learned from different countries, civil society, and partners and strategies that were implemented to ensure access to family planning care.

Providing family planning (FP) and reproductive health (RH) services during emergencies is lifesaving. As Ouri Kamissoko, an RH/FP Youth Ambassador from Mali, said, “Young people during crises have the same, if not more, needs and desires to have access to quality RH services and information as young people in stable contexts.” During the session, speakers presented several real-life crisis scenarios from the OP region, ranging from insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger leading to a high number of internally displaced people (IDPs), as well as Ebola in Guinea, and lastly the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees were able to discuss the responses to each of these crises and apply lessons learned to their own regions.

Niger has faced a complex humanitarian crisis since 2015, which made the logistics of delivering contraceptive methods and other supplies difficult. They needed to find strategies to ensure that family planning services reached the last mile, despite these challenges.

Dr. Harou, director of FP in the Ministry of Public Health, Population and Social Affairs, said, “We realized there was a need to establish new ways of working by increasing collaboration and coordination between humanitarian players, civil and military administrations, and the general population.” The agency worked with community networks and used the expertise of the Red Cross, which has extensive experience working in remote areas.

Burkina Faso faced similar challenges. In response, the Ministry of Health developed a task-shifting strategy to enable access to family planning services for IDPs. The agency trained community-based health workers to provide contraceptive methods to clients in the community. The community health workers also trained clients to administer their own injectables, which was particularly useful for clients moving from one place to another.

Burkina Faso and Mali representatives shared that the two countries are facing incidences of religious radicalism, and that talking about family planning and reproductive health is often prohibited in some affected areas. Family planning advocates from the countries said there was a need to adapt communication strategies so as not to offend sensitivities, and instead create targeted media.

For young people in Mali to still access RH-related information, Ouri Kamissoko shared that “In regions affected by insecurity, it became impossible to organize awareness raising sessions, so we, young people, have strengthened our communication activities through social media and community-based radios to ensure correct information was available.”

Indeed, access to family planning is a universal right, and it is needed more than ever by women and adolescents affected by crisis. Unfortunately, emergency planners often neglect to consider this lifesaving intervention, which leaves women vulnerable to unintended pregnancy when they’re already coping with a crisis. To learn more about family planning and emergency preparedness, check out the Ready to Save Lives toolkit, and to find out how to best incorporate emergency preparedness in FP2030 commitments, see this guidance from the FP2030 commitment toolkit. In June, FP2030 will host a workshop on making strong commitments to family planning during the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery phases of a crisis.