Amnesty International enters family planning debate fray

Monday September 24 2018

The ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Mpoki

The ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya 

By Syriacus Buguzi&Said Khalifa @TheCitizenTZ

Dar es Salaam. A London-based human rights organisation, Amnesty International on Saturday issued a statement urging Tanzania to “remove barriers on family planning services.”

Amnesty International’s statement comes about four days after the ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children suspended USAID-Funded family planning advertisements on local television channels and radios. On September 19, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya, wrote to the chief of party of FHI 360, a US-based organisation operating in Tanzania, directing it to immediately stop the adverts it was running under the USAID’s Tulonge Afya project, saying the government intended to revise the message contained in the ads.

Amnesty International has described the government’s decision to suspend the advertisements as “an attack on sexual and reproductive rights.”

The organisation’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Mr Seif Magango said in a statement that there was no doubt that sexual and reproductive rights are coming under increasing attack in the country. However, Tanzania’s ministry of health assistant director of Reproductive and Child Health Services Programme, Dr Ahmad Makuwani, assured The Citizen that the adverts would resume in the next two months. Dr Makuani said: “The programmes will resume between November and December, if everything goes according to plan. We are currently revising the content,” he said.

He is the ministry’s focal person on reproductive health, however, he declined to comment further on what content exactly the government plans to revise.

When approached for comment, USAID—the funding organisation for the suspended commercials said: “The US government remains committed to a peaceful, secure, prosperous and healthy Tanzania.”

The comment was issued by Benjamin Ellis, US Embassy Press and Information Officer.

The family planning debate in Tanzania was triggered by President John Magufuli’s remarks during his recent tour of the Lake Zone. The President chided those who embraced family planning, branding them as lazy. President Magufuli said those who use contraceptives do not want to work hard and trying to avoid the responsibility of feeding their children.

He urged women in Tanzania to continue reproducing because the country needs more people.

The President spoke in the presence of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Tanzania Jacqueline Mahon and health minister Ummy Mwalimu.

“I have travelled to Europe and elsewhere and I have seen the harmful effects of birth control. Some countries are now facing declining population growth. They are short of manpower,” the President said.

There is no indication, however, that President Magufuli’s opposition to birth control would lead to change in policy, but the remarks he made, have sent mixed signals to the public and international media.

Some western media outlets have used his stance on contraception to question the government’s policy with UK’s Mail on Sunday campaigning for withdrawal of funding to Tanzania.

However, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) which commits a significant amount of money for family planning in Tanzania said that the UK’s approach was aligning with Tanzania’s national policy and it [DFID] remained in regular dialogue with the relevant ministries.

Ahead of the government’s move on cancellation of the commercials, DFID exclusively told The Citizen that the UK still believes in empowering women and children so that they can make better health choices.

Tanzania adopted the family planning policy, which accepts various measures of birth control in 1976, one year after the UNFPA opened its office in the country.

The government raised the family planning budget by 60 per cent for current financial year of 2018/2019 as it seeks to meet the growing demand for of such services across the country.

Additional reporting by John Namkwahe