To safeguard the future of this planet, and all of us who inhabit it, access to family planning services must be rapidly improved. However, providing sufficient access to basic sexual and reproductive health services remains difficult in the poorer and more remote parts of the world.
In response to this challenge, innovative projects are emerging that empower women to make their own reproductive health choices. In remote southern Madagascar, Blue Ventures is integrating community-based conservation with health, education and livelihood diversification initiatives, to form a holistic programme in population, health and environment (PHE). This approach is providing coastal communities in this impoverished region with information and services that allow them to make informed decisions about their futures.
Family planning services in this isolated region are delivered through outreach clinics and a network of community agents trained in offering basic health education and care. Clinical services are complemented by a comprehensive programme of community education, designed to raise awareness about reproductive health and empower women and couples to choose the number and spacing of their children. This combination effectively removes access barriers to family planning for these under-served communities.
The results are compelling. After just three years, the proportion of women using contraception (the contraceptive prevalence rate, or CPR) has risen from approximately 10 to 35 percent. In the project's fourth year, there were over 2,600 visits to our contraceptive distribution points and service delivery was extended to more than 40 villages.
Dr Vik Mohan, who set up the first clinic in 2007, said "Integrating family planning services into our existing community based conservation work has proved an extremely effective way of meeting the huge unmet need for these services in this remote area. We enjoy excellent relationships with these coastal communities, enabling us to meet their health care needs sensitively and appropriately. And our strong local presence and infrastructure means we can reach even the most isolated villages with a comprehensive programme of health care and health education, something that has not previously been achieved in this region."
In an effort to advance awareness of such integrated approaches to conservation, Blue Ventures and Philippines-based NGO PATH-Foundation have joined forces to bring their field experiences to the attention of conservation scientists and practitioners. A series of presentations and discussions around PHE, held this weekend at the 7th biannual symposium of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) in Mombasa, shared results of PHE projects in Madagascar and the Philippines with delegates from around the Indian Ocean.
"Our integrated approaches to conservation and reproductive health not only promote balance in the family but also ensure an ecological balance", said Leona D'Agnes who, together with other researchers at PATH Foundation Philippines, examined an integrated population and coastal resource management approach in remote coastal areas of the Philippines. That study generated the first evidence showing that integrated PHE programmes yield better outcomes for both conservation and reproductive health than programmes that focus exclusively on the environment or family planning - and at lower total cost.
These pioneering, integrated approaches to conservation, health and family planning offer opportunities for these different interventions to work synergistically, enabling far more effective outcomes than if these initiatives were carried out in isolation.
As the population clock ticks over to 7 billion, the population, health and environment approach demonstrates the inextricable link between reproductive health and resource use, by providing practical immediate and lasting benefits to public health, gender equity, food security and biodiversity conservation.
Blue Ventures is an award-winning marine conservation organisation, dedicated to working with local communities to conserve threatened marine environments. Our highly acclaimed conservation programmes work with some of the world's poorest coastal communities to develop conservation and alternative income initiatives to protect biodiversity and coastal livelihoods.
Information about Blue Ventures' population, health and environment (PHE) programmes can be found here.
More details of PATH Foundation Philippines can be found here.
As part of our commitment to improving the literacy and education, Blue Ventures is working hard to ensure more girls complete their education through our schools scholarship programme, for which more information can be found here.
Blue Ventures' population and health work is made possible through support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the MacArthur Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).