Partnerships to Advance Family Planning: Lessons from Senegal

By Janet Fleischman and Cathryn Streifel

In a recent interview with the CSIS Global Health Policy Center in Dakar, the Senegalese minister of health, Dr. Awa Marie Coll-Seck, used a familiar term to express her commitment to expanding access to family planning—“yes we can.” That is a bold proposition in such a conservative country, in a region with some of the world’s highest maternal mortality and unmet need for family planning. Her leadership reflects an important moment in Senegal. Participants at this week’s annual meeting of the Ouagadougou Partnership should examine lessons from Senegal as they work to advance women’s health and family planning in the subregion.

The Ouagadougou Partnership was launched in 2011 to accelerate the implementation of family planning interventions and to ensure the coordination of efforts. The partnership includes key actors: nine of the region’s governments; donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the French government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and UNFPA, among others; and civil society coalitions. The Partnership’s overarching goal is to reach one million additional women with modern contraceptive methods by 2015, which will require most of the countries to double their contraceptive prevalence rate over three years.

Senegal is a particular focus of these efforts, since it is seen as the regional hub and is one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Given the current attention to family planning in Senegal and in the subregion, we visited Senegal in November to learn what opportunities and challenges are presented by the strategic partnerships between Senegal and the private donors, especially related to U.S. policy in Senegal. We also wanted to see what it will take to build the domestic political support and accountability to ensure further progress in expanding access to family planning in Senegal. In our new commentary, Strategic Partnerships to Advance Family Planning, we share what we learned and the lessons for partner countries and donors.

The stakes are high, for Senegal and for the subregion, and progress will be necessary to keep ongoing donor and private-sector engagement. To tackle the many challenges ahead, continued country-level momentum, innovation, and resources will be needed at all levels in Senegal and among its donors. This also means addressing the factors that undermine progress: from private-sector regulations and short timeframes for donor funding; and from gender norms and attitudes toward youth sexuality to religious opposition. Senegal is simultaneously jumping ahead in the subregion while also lagging behind other parts of Africa, and whether it will prove to be the engine for the subregion that the donors have wagered remains an open question.

Senegal’s progress in family planning is still nascent and fragile, and unforeseen shocks like the Ebola crisis risk diverting attention and resources. But this is not the time to turn away from Senegal or from the potential for the Ouagadougou Partnership to expand women’s health and family planning in the subregion. As Minister Coll-Seck advised: “We have shown it can be done and already see results. We can do it, despite all the challenges.” And then she added: “We can change the destiny of the population.”

Janet Fleischman
Senior Associate (Non-resident), Global Health Policy Center