Dar es Salaam. Faith and family planning is one of the hot topics that will be discussed at the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP 2016) in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, this week.
The four-day conference, which kicked off yesterday, will for the first time bring together 85 faith leaders and representatives of faith-based organisations (FBOs) for a faith pre-conference on January 24-25.
The religious leaders will discuss best practices in faith-based involvement in family planning and how faith communities can advocate for increased support from their governments for life-saving family planning.
Participants in the pre-conference include Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Budhist religious leaders as well as representatives from faith-based organisations from Indonesia, Kenya, US, Philippines, DRC, Malawi, Cameroon, India and Niger. Rwanda, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Tanzania, Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Nigeria, UK, Germany and the Netherlands will also be represented.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 289,000 women died from preventable complications during pregnancy and childbirth in 2013. Some of the deaths could have been prevented if the women had access to contraception. More than 222 million women worldwide lack access to family planning for healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies.
The Rev James Mlali, Programme Manager (Advocacy) with Health Promotion Tanzania, who is among those attending the faith pre-conference, says involvement of religious leaders at the ICFP is very important given that religious leaders are closer to people than any other person and therefore have more influence.
“They teach the word of God and bring the voice of God to the people. They are therefore trusted by the people and anything they say will be well received,” says the reverend.
Lauren Van Enk, Programme Officer with the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University in Washington DC, told The Citizen that faith leaders play an influential role in supporting families to make healthy decisions and plan ahead so they can properly care for their children.
“I commend the organisers of ICFP for recognising the important contribution of FBOs and faith leaders to family planning. Planning one’s family is an intensely personal decision that is strongly affected by culture, including religion, and social expectations,” she says.
Lauren says many FBOs, particularly in Africa, are important health service providers operating a substantial proportion of hospitals and health centres in their countries. She says ensuring that all people have access to family planning services requires that FBOs have the capacity to provide family planning to their communities.
Lauren says it is important to involve religious leaders in family planning matters because the values and motivations behind family planning use are related to an individual’s hope for his or her future.
The role of religious leaders, according to her, is to support the wellbeing of their followers in all areas—spiritual, physical, relational, and so forth. Since churches and mosques are often the heart of hope and wellbeing in their communities, it’s important to encourage information sharing about planning one’s family.
“I have personally received requests from many religious leaders that they want to play a more active role and desire information about family planning so they can meet the needs of the communities they serve,” adds Lauren.
According to Rev Mlali, religious leaders have a moral duty to promote family planning in order to help curb unnecessary maternal and child deaths.
Quoting the 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS), Rev Mlali says a woman dies every hour in Tanzania from pregnancy-related and child birth complications.
According to the 2010 TDHS, the country’s maternal deaths stand at 454 per 100,000 live births, which is equal to between 21 and 25 mothers dying in a day. Infant death rate stands at 51 deaths per 1,000 births, according to the latest 2010 DHS.
“These deaths are preventable. Research shows that maternal deaths can be avoided with access and effective use of family planning,” says Rev Mlali.
Research shows that family planning alone can reduce maternal deaths by 44 per cent and that of infants by 22 per cent.
In Tanzania, according to the 2010 DHS, only 34 per cent of married women use a contraceptive method while 27 per cent use modern contraceptive methods.
Twenty-five per cent of currently married women have an unmet need for family planning, which means they have no access. The total fertility rate stands at 5.4 children, that is five children per woman on average.
Lucy Rodriguez, a Catholic faithful, supports child spacing and having the number of children that one is capable of supporting.
However, she believes in the use of natural family planning methods in so doing. She says religious leaders, especially in third world countries, indeed have a moral duty to support natural family planning.
“I agree that the infant and maternal death rate would be reduced, but we have to remember that the infant and maternal deaths are mainly due to poor or no healthcare accessibility,” she says.
She says contrary to popular belief, contraceptives do not prevent women from conceiving but only prevent the fertile egg from attaching itself to the wall of the womb. So technically, women taking contraceptives may have periodic abortions without realizing it.