By Amy Metzger
Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH)
On July 11, DFID and the Gates Foundation are bringing together heads of state, policy makers and representatives of the faith community from around the globe to meet in London to galvanize their collective support for family planning. It is an unprecedented opportunity that must be applauded for its hopes to make a lasting impact in helping families plan the number of children they want. A meeting of faith-based organizations on the day following the summit will explore the role of the faith community in family planning and how the faith-inspired voice can be lifted up to protect the health of women and families across the globe.
Many of us have lived and traveled to the world’s poorest countries and are tirelessly trying to improve health conditions from Bolivia to Burkina Faso, and from Thailand to Tanzania. And though we know the connection between health and family size, we don’t have the critical mass yet to make family planning a reality for the 215 million women who want access to family planning supplies.
The faith community has played a major role in family planning for many years. Faith-based organizations provide anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the health care in many African nations, and many CCIH member organizations provide family planning as part of comprehensive health services. IMA World Health recently added championing family planning to the scope of its USHINDI program in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The USHINDI program, funded by USAID, helps survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and works to strengthen the capacity of women. Family planning seems an ideal addition to a program serving a nation struggling to rebuild after years of conflict.
I have lived in the developing world, and seen the dire conditions in which millions of women give birth. In 2003, while working in Uganda near the border with Lake Albert and Congo to the west, I lived with a midwife named Florence. She had few supplies and a decrepit scale to monitor the weight of the pregnant women that came for checkups, but lacked nearly everything we take for granted in our own doctors’ offices. A few times, I helped her deliver babies in a small under-equipped building next to her home. On one particular evening, a woman came in to deliver her twins. Though almost 10 years ago, I can still quickly envision the unsterile, scant room, the nauseating smell of blood. Fortunately, the woman survived and delivered two healthy babies, but I consider it almost a miracle after how much blood she lost in an area far from a hospital or proper health center, in a forgotten part of Uganda where tourist don’t roam.
As I left Uganda, I helped get electricity and water to Florence’s compound, but water and electricity alone won’t help Florence do her work successfully. She needed family planning supplies to teach a variety of family planning methods. She needed pain medicine and disinfectant to sterilize the rooms properly. She needed a safe delivery kit to include a clean blade, a piece of string, soap and a piece of plastic to serve as the delivery surface. Almost ten years later, this remote area of Uganda is still struggling to get much-needed family planning services to the communities. I wonder sometimes how many women and children have died because of the lack of family planning and health commodities.
Women around the world face obstacles that most of us can hardly begin to fathom. Lack of access to family planning leaves mothers in developing countries with no easy way to control the size of their families, and in the end, robs both the mother and her children of a better life, one that enables each to eat enough nourishing food and pursue the education that lifts communities out of poverty. Many people don’t realize that family planning actually prevents abortion and helps families to space their children in a way that will facilitate optimal health for both mother and child. Based on research conducted around the world, the World Health Organization recommends women wait two years after the birth of a child to become pregnant to protect herself, the baby, and her other children.
Please learn more about what CCIH is doing to promote family planning and pray for CCIH members like IMA World Health who are delivering health services to the underserved, and for health workers like Florence. And stop to count your blessings for being born in a place where family planning services are around the corner and water, soap, clean sheets and necessary medicines come standard at birth.
Amy Metzger is a Program Manager for Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH). CCIH promotes global health and wholeness from a Christian perspective. The organization shares information and provides a forum for dialogue, networking, advocacy, and fellowship to the spectrum of Christian organizations and individuals working in international health.