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When I was in training to become a midwife, a flight attendant, with no money and in critical condition, arrived at the maternity ward of Yalgado Ouédraogo hospital in Ouagadougou after getting a botched abortion. My colleagues and I put money together to buy her essential medicines, but she eventually died—even after we administered the medicines. We were shocked. And I thought, we must do something to improve women’s reproductive health. When I think that this woman could have been saved if she’d had access to contraception earlier, I’m reminded of my reason for becoming a midwife—to save human beings.
But family planning doesn’t start with midwives or doctors. It starts with political will and with money. If political leaders want to improve women’s access to contraception and reproductive health services in their communities, they can act on this commitment by making a line item for these services in their local budgets, the local government’s plan for how it will spend public money.
For the first time, the rural communes of Gorgadji and Seytenga in the Sahel, one of Burkina Faso’s poorest regions where the modern contraceptive prevalence rate is 7% (DHS 2010), included family planning activities in their 2017 budgets, thanks to the sustained advocacy of the FCI Program of MSH and partner community-based organizations.
With funding from the Opportunity Fund, managed by PAI and funded by Advance Family Planning, the FCI Program of MSH organized a strategy session with advocates and community leaders to identify approaches for engaging mayors and the municipal council and to develop messages about the important role of family planning in reducing the high rates of maternal and child deaths. Our local team used these messages to advocate with the mayors in the communes of Gorgadji and Seytenga discussing the central role of women in their communities—and the importance of budgeting for family planning services to protect women’s health and rights.
As a result of this advocacy and during the 2017 annual budgeting process, for the first time Gorgadji and Seytenga allocated 2 million CFA (US $3,200) and 500,000 CFA (US $800), respectively, to family planning. These communes will purchase contraceptives, including condoms, distribute leaflets, share family planning information on radio and through educational theater skits, and facilitate workshops explaining the how and why of family planning. Allocated family planning funds will also support Family Planning Week, held every year in May and December when community teams in each district lead educational activities with local health centers.
While these budget allocations are relatively small, they set a precedent for leaders’ continued support of family planning and represent a win that advocates can leverage in future advocacy initiatives in the Sahel region.
Our work as advocates does not end when a line item for family planning is added to the budget; now we must ensure that the communes’ promise to the people becomes reality. The FCI Program of MSH and our family planning coalition partners will work with the health districts to monitor how the budgeted funds are spent. And we will continue to work with our Advance Family Planning partner, Équilibres et Populations, to build the capacity of local governments to finance and help ensure women’s access to high-quality health services, including family planning.