Working Together to Reach One Million Women and Their Partners: West Africa and the Ouagadougou Partnership

Sarah Fohl

(Formerly) CCP | Program Officer II
3rd annual Ouagadougou Partnership meeting
Ouagadougou Partnership member country representatives, partners, and stakeholders at the 3rd annual meeting in Paris, December 2014. Courtesy of Ouagadougou Partnership Coordination Unit

This year is an exciting one for celebrating contraceptive access in Francophone West Africa—2015 marks the fifth year since nine governments (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Togo, and Senegal), civil society organizations, and donors created the Ouagadougou Partnership and committed to improving family planning access in their region. Their goal is to add one million new contraceptive users by the end of this year.

Although countries may define a “new user” in different terms (for example, first-time user of family planning, new user of a long term method), the definition used by Track20 (a project implemented by Avenir Health to track progress of the global FP2020 initiative) is clear. New users include the number of additional women (or their partners) of reproductive age currently using a modern contraceptive method compared to 2012. In just three short years, these countries will have achieved their goal by providing vastly improved family planning information and access to an adequate contraceptive method mix.

Reaching one million additional women and couples with information and resources requires extended collaboration with various partners and stakeholders throughout the region. That is why K4Health conducted a knowledge management (KM) and information and communication technology (ICT) needs assessment last fall to understand the priority information needs and current knowledge exchange practices and systems being used by the members of the Ouagadougou Partnership. Findings from the assessment will inform next steps to support the development of a KM platform to encourage internal communication and external collaboration on family planning programs.

One particular finding from the assessment highlighted the need for family planning partners in the region like the Ouagadougou Partnership, the West African Health Organization (WAHO), and the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) to provide tailored technical support to countries. Therefore, each organization must openly and regularly collaborate with all international and national partners to avoid duplicated efforts and to encourage the development of effective outreach and support throughout the region. K4Health is also working with WAHO to conduct a KM and information and communications technology (ICT) needs assessment next month to support improvements to information synthesis for internal and external communication of family planning and other health information among its 15 member countries and international partners.

Each of these commitments highlights a positive transition in the region in which its leaders work together to strengthen the impact of collective action towards common goals of health and prosperity. I am reminded of my own transition from a new contraceptive user to a reproductive health counselor and then a programmer, researcher, and advocate for family planning access worldwide. As a counselor, I witnessed firsthand how information and access improved client outcomes. As a programmer and advocate, I have seen how political will and high-level collaboration have impacted national outcomes in contraceptive prevalence. Although I only recently joined the K4Health family, this transformative experience continues to inform my perspective and fuel my passion to support regional programs like the Ouagadougou Partnership.

Improved knowledge management systems are imperative for reaching one million additional users, and they enrich relationships between family planning partners through coordination of information. It is yet to be seen whether this goal will be achieved by the end of the year. The annual Ouagadougou Partnership meeting held in December will provide an opportunity for reflection on the first three years, information sharing, and commitments to future collaboration. Sustaining these resources and relationships will not only help the region reach these additional users by 2015, but will also increase the likelihood that they remain continued users in the future.