Investing for a lifetime of returns. This was the ambitious tagline of the fifth International Conference on Family Planning, held 12-15 November 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. Not daunted by a challenge, Njaka Raveloson, Blue Ventures’ National Community Health Programme Lead in Madagascar, and Nantenaina Andriamalala, Coordinator of the Madagascar PHE Network, jumped at the opportunity to present their experiences on a global stage.

Sharing Madagascar’s experience with the world

For both Nantenaina and Njaka, the ICFP was a rare and exciting opportunity to address stakeholders on an international stage, represent Madagascar, and share the unique work we are undertaking there.

Joining the 3,700 other delegates from over 100 countries, they enjoyed three days of inspiring talks, workshops, and animated discussions with other representatives of the family planning community. They both came away buzzing with ideas of how to incorporate what they’d learned into their work with remote coastal communities in Madagascar.

Attending the conference also enabled me to learn from other practitioners, develop my skills in networking for forming partnerships, and see how my work fits into a global context. Then I have the chance to bring all this learning home with me.” – Nantenaina

Njaka was particularly keen to learn about recent innovations from the global family planning community, such as digital health applications and reporting, as well as low-tech innovations related to couples counselling, medication management, and supply chains.

Njaka’s presentation told the story of Blue Ventures’ community health programme, and encouraged other organisations to seek out cross-sector partnerships that promote collaboration, learning, and sharing to meet community needs. Nantenaina presented ‘Integrating family planning services with local conservation initiatives in Madagascar’, and he also presented a poster on ‘Mobilising non-health actors in pursuit of the FP2020 goals’.

It was very exciting to have the opportunity to inspire others to replicate our approach in new locations around the world, and this conference provides an amazing platform to do this, and to share the successes of the Madagascar PHE Network.” – Nantenaina

Global perspectives on a global issue

Nantenaina was particularly uplifted to see that PHE – a holistic approach that reflects the relationships between People, their Health and the Environment – is becoming a global movement, and garnering more and more interest from the international community. He was also encouraged that young people in particular were well represented at the conference.

Talks on sexual and reproductive health of young people and adolescents, including strategies for reducing teenage pregnancy and mechanisms by which to support the psychosocial and physical development of young people, were particularly enthralling and relevant for our work in Madagascar.

I loved the opportunity to meet a huge of number of people from all over the world, and talk family planning! I found it useful to learn from others’ experiences, and I enjoyed sharing Blue Ventures’ community health achievements from the last 10 years – in particular, successful partnerships with Marie Stopes Madagascar, Population Services International, and the Ministry of Public Health.” – Njaka

Many presentations were focused on the integration of family planning within wider discussions on climate change, resilience, livelihoods, and conservation. We have understood for a while that better uptake of family planning services contributes to community resilience, and were gladdened to see that organisations beyond the Madagascar PHE Network are also seeing the benefits of integrating family planning with conservation. These are important insights that confirm our belief in the multiple benefits of our holistic health-environment approach.

Important elements of this message seem to be catching on in high places. The Right Honourable Édourard Ngirente, Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda, said in his introductory speech that: “family planning is not only a women’s issue, it’s also an environment issue.”

Lessons learned

Nantenaina was inspired by the example from the Endangered Wildlife Trust, a conservation NGO working throughout southern and eastern Africa , who presented their experiences of integrating family planning within their conservation work. They found that women were more engaged with conservation, more men were engaged with family planning, and – particularly important in current times – costs were saved through the sharing of resources.

I want to explore the links between PHE and broader thematics such as community resilience; or how using a learning exchange network might improve advocacy of health issues.” – Nantenaina

Njaka also has plenty of new ideas he wants to take home. He is keen to continue to improve people’s understanding of choice and reproductive rights, in particular young adults. Njaka has got big plans (you have been warned!) for further supporting our community health workers, and building on our established relationships with government health services, and community leaders. Inspired by the prominence of youth at the ICFP, both Njaka and Nantenaina feel that a learning exchange network might be an ideal mechanism by which to engage young adults, and identify youth leaders in communities.

When family planning and conservation activities are planned together, women have an opportunity to become more engaged in conservation, and men in family planning.

Although Njaka and Nantenaina come from different organisations, have different perspectives, and attended different sessions, their take home message was the same – clearly great minds do think alike! Collaboration is the key to achieving your aims, whatever sector you work in. Synergies created between conservation and reproductive health organisations can benefit communities, and contribute to overall health. They both also agreed that more space needs to be given to youth, as they own a huge potential – and are the leaders of tomorrow.

Read more about Blue Ventures’ 11 years supporting community health services in Madagascar

Thanks to the Population Reference Bureau, the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, and everyone else responsible for making ICFP 2018 a success.

Posted by Emily Clark

Emily discovered Blue Ventures in 2014 and has previously enjoyed working in Andavadoaka with Safidy for six months in 2014, before returning in 2016 and 2017 to train nurses and midwives in Helping Babies Breathe (neonatal resuscitation training for health workers in low-resource settings). She is now our Community Health Technical Advisor based in the UK.

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