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A Marshall Plan for #Africa should prioritize Family Planning




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At this month’s G20 summit, Germany secured a major injection of private investment for Africa as a way to curtail mass migration to Europe. The drive was a win for German chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been driving a campaign for a new Marshall – or “Merkel” – Plan for Africa following the realization that roughly 400,000 migrants are expected to flee to Germany this year escaping war, poverty, or both - writes Colin Stevens.

The plan was conceived after some serious introspection on Berlin’s part. Last year, the government realized that among the 400,000 companies in Germany, fewer than 1,000 invest in Africa. Germany’s trade with the continent totals less than 2% of its overall foreign trade. Lawmakers realized that only with serious investment in entrepreneurs and infrastructure would it be possible to stoke enough economic development to discourage migration.

Their campaign to boost FDI in Africa should be applauded, especially given woefully low levels of corporate engagement in the continent by anybody but the Chinese. But in fact, the best way to address some of the root causes of the migration crisis may be for Europe to invest more in family planning services in Africa – especially given the Trump administration’s regressive policies on the matter. Beyond relieving pressure on Africa’s overburdened economies and job markets, effective family planning is the only way to reduce adolescent pregnancies, empower women, and unleash the power of the demographic dividend, the accelerated economic growth that results from declines in a country’s mortality and fertility rates. Despite the numerous benefits that result when women have access to contraception, barely 30 million of the UN Population Fund’s (UNFPA) 2020 target of 120 million women and girls can obtain birth control – 20 million fewer than the latest milestone. The gap is largely due to wealthy nations’ failure to allocate sustained resources to family planning services as one of the key building blocks of aid and investment in developing countries. And the results are staring us in the face.

Post-Ebola Sierra Leone is a real-life test case for what can unfold when there is inconsistent investment in contraceptives and maternity care. During the crisis itself, certain stakeholders dove in to help Sierra Leone and its neighbors. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sounded early warning bells when the virus began to spread in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia in spring 2014 and provided desperately needed medical care for the first victims. Private companies active in the region set up public-private partnerships to combat the crisis: Russian aluminium company UC Rusal, the largest foreign investor in Guinea, built and equipped a $10 million microbiological research and medical treatment center as part of a partnership with the Russian government to treat victims and strengthen the national healthcare system. As part of that partnership, Rusal also contributed its facility to developing a vaccine now being deployed to combat future outbreaks. Investments like Rusal's are important because they contribute badly-needed permanent health infrastructure in the places that need it most - the Ebola facility built by the company will remain in place and address other health issues in local communities.

Many others, though, left soon once the crisis abated, and foreign organizations and local governments alike failed to continue investing in basic public services (like family planning).

Even in the midst of the crisis, the risk of diverting scare healthcare resources was already clear. When Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone, social services broke down, schools were shuttered for nearly a full academic year, and family planning services essentially ceased to exist. The result? In one year, 18,000 adolescent girls became pregnant – a “huge spike,” according to the UNFPA country representative. The collapse in domestic services was compounded by the fact that as aid funds were channeled towards Ebola and other crises, family planning funding plummeted. During the past three years, allocations to UNFPA for Sierra Leone have fallen by more than half – a drastic drop for an agency that pays for 95% of contraceptives available in the country. The funding crisis was worsened by Donald Trump’s decision to reinstate the global gag rule, which prohibits recipients of US funding from mentioning the word abortion, and to slash funding for UNFPA.


The situation has major implications that will ripple far beyond a temporary spike in teen pregnancies in Sierra Leone – which already has the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy worldwide, at 125 births per 1,000 girls. Poor access to family planning services has massive human, social, and economic costs, leading to higher maternal and infant mortality rates, lower levels of education, poor gender equality, diminished job prospects, and persistent poverty. All of which, in turn, provides further reason for Africans to continue efforts to migrate north in search of better opportunities.

Of course, it’s questions of migration and population control that have spurred European donors to devote renewed attention to family planning service, with Denmark saying more investment could help “limit the migration pressure on Europe.” It’s a self-centered incentive, but one that will hopefully spur their neighbors to follow suit. Until the private sector decides it is worth investing in the economic boom that results from sustained investment in family planning, governments will need to keep doing so.


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