Posted by: rachelhampton | 11/25/2009

Unexpected linkages: family planning and the environment

Global Health Council Research Associate Rachel Hampton traveled to the International Conference on Family Planning in Kampala, Uganda. This is the third of her posts from the conference.

KAMPALA, Uganda – What do conservation projects have to do with family planning? It was this question that crossed my mind while skimming through the conference program and coming across a presentation titled, “Integration with marine conservation enhances the acceptability and use of family planning in the Philippines.” This presentation was part of a larger panel on family planning and the environment, which featured population, health and the environment (PHE) programs in four different countries – the Philippines, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. PHE programs focus on the complex relationship of population size, family planning and the environment through both health and conservation interventions. Read below for two examples of PHE programs that were presented today:

Integration with marine conservation enhances the acceptability and use of family planning in the Philippines. The Philippines is one of the most populated countries in the world, with a rapidly growing population. The majority of the population lives in costal areas where poverty and fertility exceed national averages, factors that both contribute to overfishing. In response to the dangerous convergence of these factors, PATH initiated the Integrated Population and Costal Resource Management (IPOPCOM), a program that addressed both sexual and reproductive health and marine conservation through a “stewardship” framework. This intervention encouraged youth-to-take ownership over their sexual and reproductive health and the environment and adults to plan their families and participate in cooperative fisheries within the community. The program was highly successful, with the proportion of adults using family planning to increase from 43 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2006. Marine conservation efforts improved too, with the percent fishermen reporting conservation activities nearly doubling from 2003 to 2006.

Population, heath and environment in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park case study. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to the endangered mountain gorilla, and is also surrounded by a densely populated, impoverished area with high fertility and poor access to services and education, similar to the costal areas of the Philippines discussed above. Due to the genetic links between people and primates, diseases like scabies and tuberculosis can be transmitted from one population to the other. Recognizing the challenges to both human and animal health,  Conservation through Public Health (CTPH) developed a program to prevent and control disease transmission between people and gorillas, increase the use of family planning to curb rapid population growth, and raise enthusiasm for health and conservation. CTPH’s initial program had consisted of three interventions: gorilla health monitoring, human public health (including a TB component), and education and communication activities. Shortly after the launch of the program, an intervention to provide family planning was added. During the course of this program, family planning use was four times higher than historic trends, and there was an 11-fold increase in the number of people accessing testing for TB. After the family planning component was added, community-based health care workers also provided Depo-Provera injections, another intervention that proved highly effective with more than 730 injections administered.

So, what can we learn from PHE programs? First, I think these programs teach us to look for partners in unexpected places. I suspect that there are additional opportunities for family planning outside the health sector, if we are willing to expand our horizons. These new, innovative partnerships will certainly pave the way to health over the next decade. Second, I think these programs illustrate the wide-reaching effect of rapid population growth and high fertility rates, not just on health but on the environment as well. This relationship is not a one-way street, with environmental factors equally impacting human health. One fitting example is climate change (see David Olson’s blog below). Perhaps the health sector should look to partner with climate change organizations too?  It is also important to remember that not every partnership is a productive one, and in order for them to be successful, partners must share a common vision, cooperate with one another, trust each other’s expertise and willingly share the credit for their achievements.

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  1. LUNA Health and Social Network is a Ugandan non governmental organisation. It takes interest in facilitating placements for professionals and trainees in various fields for purpose of research, field work, internships or a volunteer. It is based at Kisugu on the suburbs of the capital of city, Kampala. Please visit our website now

  2. Thanks for covering our session and glad to hear that you found in interesting. I think your observations are right on target. There are an increasing number of projects that are looking at possible non-health partners for family planning. FHI’s Progress project for example is just beginning an operations research project examining delivery of family planning integrated with several sectors including microfinance, environment, and agriculture.

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