Here in lush, tranquil Arusha, Tanzania, a boisterous chorus of roosters greets you far too early in the morning as if to announce, “Welcome to the 5th African Population Conference!” Team PAI is here amidst the vast coffee and tea plantations surrounding Arusha – and under the watchful gaze of magnificent Mt. Meru – at this week-long gathering of largely African researchers, demographers, advocates and policymakers who’ve assembled to discuss family planning/reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and overall population trends in Africa.
Last evening, Monday 10 December, PAI’s latest documentary, Abstaining from Reality: U.S. Restrictions on HIV Prevention, had its African premiere here in Tanzania, fittingly one of the PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) focus countries where the abstinence-only restriction is harming comprehensive HIV prevention efforts. We screened Abstaining to an overflow audience that exceeded the room’s “carrying capacity,” forcing us to turn away would-be participants throughout the 2-hour discussion. There was simply no where left to stand.
Tewodros Melesse, International Planned Parenthood Federation-Africa Regional Office, moderated the session, which included remarks by Terri Bartlett, PAI; Rosemarie Muganda Onyando, Centre for the Study of Adolescence (Kenya) and Elly Mugumya, Reproductive Health Uganda (formerly Family Planning Association of Uganda). A spirited conversation ensued, ranging from questions about the politics in the United States that breed the Global Gag Rule and like-minded ideological policies, to demands that African governments be held accountable for not investing enough of their own funds in SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights). All in all, there was a fantastic response to the documentary from African research and advocacy colleagues who work in countries most impacted by the abstinence-only restriction.
Earlier today, Tuesday 11 December, PAI Research Associate Elizabeth Leahy presented the findings of one of PAI’s recent reports, The Shape of Things to Come, at a conference session on “Changes in Age Structure and their Implications for Wellbeing.” Other institutions represented on the panel included the University of Cape Coast (Ghana), the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED, France) and the University of Botswana, each of whom gave national- or region-specific analyses of the impacts of changing age structures.
In addition to presenting the research findings on the connections between age structure and broader development, PAI’s presentation offered a number of policy recommendations for African governments. These included prioritizing family planning and reproductive health programs in national development plans, as well as following through on the commitment recently seen by the continent’s health ministers to the Maputo Plan of Action.
In discussion with the audience, Elizabeth focused on the complex nature of the relationship between age structure and other indicators of development, and emphasized the need for demography to be a key part of the equation for policy-makers.
Wendy Turnbull, Senior Policy Research Analyst