Plan for a good start - an Opinion-Editorial

Date: 09/04/2013

VUDA connotes a sense of history for us in Fiji - it is a commonly-held belief that families which first peopled these islands landed at this spot from which they then dispersed to the different parts of the Fiji Islands.

Plan for a good start

Nurses during the Fiji national family planning policy review in Suva, in 2012.

History will be created again at the same spot today when about 60 participants will converge at Viseisei Village to talk about family planning - an issue that still raises some eyebrows today but an aspect of life that is imperative for good health, sustainable development and economic growth.

The inaugural Repositioning Family Planning Conference which will involve representatives of faith-based organisations, the youth sector, health workers and communities is historical because it is the first conference of its kind in the region.

Fiji's lead in this instance when one considers the myths that continue to demonise family planning is applauded for it is a great show of the nation's maturity in acknowledging our collective responsibility in the creation of a healthy nation.

Strengthening the capacity of island nations to deliver quality family planning and sexual and reproductive health services, information, commodities and community-based interventions for family resource management is one of the cornerstones of the United Nations Population Fund's (UNFPA) fifth Pacific multi-country program, which runs between 2013 -2017.

The UNFPA PSRO has supported policy development, health and obstetrics surveys and reproductive health management since it began operations here in 1976, serving 14 Pacific Island countries; the organisation has worked with the MOH since towards supporting capacity building in obstetrics, family planning, reproductive health commodities, etc.

Last year saw the culmination of one of our main projects with the Ministry of Health when family planning health practitioners (rural and urban-based nurses and gynecologists) completed the review of the Fiji's family planning policy and family planning services guidelines. Discussing the main findings of these processes will be one of the main objectives of the Viseisei meeting.

Participants will contribute to the planning of an intended up-scaling of voluntary, responsive and youth-friendly family planning services in the country.

The mix of participants should also be an opportunity to identify, build and strengthen partnerships with traditional leaders, faith-based organisations, community groups, youth, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders and there will be an attempt to collectively inform strategies to reposition and mainstream sustainable family planning services in Fiji.

This trailblazing conference will inform and guide any other country in the region which may want to consider going down the same path. Family planning options allows a family unit space to breathe economically and socially.

To plan the number of children one has is to plan according to available resources, giving the child a good start. To space one's children means healthier mothers and infants as opposed to dying senselessly from preventable pregnancy complications.

The conference in Viseisei will be officially opened by Adi Senitiki Lewatuninamoli, the wife of the Tui Vuda Ratu Eparama Kitione Tavaiqia, who will speak on the impact of unplanned pregnancy on the community.

The meeting will feature innovative topics surrounding the issue of family planning for example a paper on the case of natural and non-modern methods of family planning from the Archbishop-Elect, Father Peter Loy Chong, and/or a session from private sector players sharing their experiences on how they market their products.

The inaugural meeting is just one of the many progresses Fiji has made in the field of health.

When UNFPA handed-over $0.5 million worth of emergency obstetric care equipment to the Ministry of Health last week, Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma announced an initiative to be launched soon that would make Fiji the first country in the world to introduce a Facebook account that will facilitate discussions on adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues for young people (between the ages of 15-30 years).

Fiji is also the first and only country, out of the 14 governments in the Pacific UNFPA provides commodities to free-of-charge, which purchases its own supply of contraceptives through the third-party procurement process which UNFPA facilitates.

While the Pacific may celebrate progress, it is with caution for there is still so much to do. For women's full potential in the development of their nations to be realised, women must be able to plan their families thus the importance of access to relevant information and services.

Meeting the global demand for voluntary family planning will not only save and improve the lives of women and children; it will empower women, reduce poverty and ultimately build stronger nations. The gap between the demand for family planning and the availability of services must be bridged, starting with the most vulnerable-poor women, rural women and young people, upon whom our future rests.

Globally-speaking, UNFPA data indicate that if current unmet need for modern contraceptive methods were met: unintended pregnancies would decline by two-thirds, from 80 million to 26 million; there would be 21 million fewer unplanned births; Seven million fewer miscarriages would occur; pregnancy-related deaths would drop by 79,000; and/or there would be 1.1 million fewer infant deaths.

As the Fiji Repositioning Family Planning Conference in Vuda begins its three-day deliberations in Viseisei, let us all as individuals, families, villages or provinces generate greater commitment to the idea that everyone has a right to reproductive health and family planning.

It is an issue of life and good health from the basic units of humanity, families; how this impacts our society, economy and nation as a whole will be invaluable.

  • This is part of a series of columns provided for publication to Fiji's largest national daily newspaper, The Fiji Times, fortnightly.