Surmounting reproductive health challenges in Nigeria
Over the last 55 years, Pathfinder International has been at the forefront of championing issues of reproductive health in Nigeria especially at the time there was challenges in providing access to sexual reproductive health services.
Focused on the wellbeing of women of reproductive age, the international organization ensured that it surmounts the huge cultural, traditional barriers amongst others posed to access to family planning commodities in a bid to make sure that every woman has the opportunity to choose when and how many children she wants to have.
To ensure this, Pathfinder started the campaign on pregnancy and birth by choice in Nigeria in 1965. Precisely, Pathfinder emerged in Nigeria, Africa most populous country 55 years ago. To celebrate what it described as the significant landmark as a pioneer in charting the path for sexual and reproductive health services in the country, Pathfinder Nigeria recently organised a webinar with the theme: Evolution of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Nigeria.
Speaking on the journey thus far, the President and Chief Executive Pathfinder International, Lois Quam said, "We go to the places that are most difficult, the places that are most in need, bringing health and wellbeing. We do that to make sure that every woman has the opportunity to make the most crucial choices in her life, such as how many children to have. So that she can participate fully in her life.
“I am proud of so many things in our 55 years of History. One of the things that stand us out to me is the work that Pathfinder did really very early Nigeria, to continue to provide services during the Nigerian Civil War. Many international reproductive health and other health organisations left Nigeria during that period. But, Pathfinder Nigeria stayed to continue to provide services during the Civil War and during important periods afterwards.”
While congratulating Pathfinder International on the auspicious celebration she said, “I want to begin by expressing my deep respect and admiration for the Pathfinder leadership and team in Nigeria today and for the distinguished set of Pathfinder leaders and team members to serve these past 55 years. Pathfinding in Nigeria, throughout these 55 years and today that is what we do."
At the virtual event, Mike Egboh, a former Country Director for Pathfinder International in Nigeria who said that the organisation pioneered reproductive health programmes in Nigeria, he further explained that, “At Pathfinder you are an explorer. We explore and navigate. We are change agents. At Pathfinder we are also capacity builders and life transformers.”
Egboh gave further details; “In 1965, Pathfinder gave a graph to the late Professor Olukoye Ransom Kuti at the global primary healthcare to study family planning in remote Sokoto at the time. In 1985, a formal office was opened in Nigeria.
"The first thing was that people did not have any information. There were a knowledge and technology gap. So the first thing was to support the knowledge and fertility research at the UCH Ibadan."
Also, Dr. Amina Aminu Dorayi, Country Director, Pathfinder International Nigeria, said her organisation has contributed meaningfully in changing the narratives of sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria and sub-Sahara Africa.
For her, “Reproductive health system has evolved significantly from one that was largely blind to the unique health needs of women to one that recognises that for individuals to lead a productive life especially women, the higher standards of health and in particular sexual and reproductive health must be secured.
“Pathfinder is driven by the conviction that all people regardless of where they live have the right to decide whether and when to have children, to exist free from fear and stigma and live the lives they choose," Dr. Dorayi said.
Speaking further, Roslyn Watson, Board Chair, Pathfinder International, lauded Pathfinder’s groundbreaking efforts in sexual, reproductive health and family planning.
She said, “Sexual reproductive health was pioneered in Nigeria by Pathfinder, it was developed and refined in Nigeria and continues to evolve and be more innovative and impactful in Nigeria. Pathfinder is one of Nigeria’s largest family planning and reproductive health programme working with government partners to establish national health systems for data collection and system management control supplies.
“This work is the foundation for all the family planning programs conducted worldwide today. And this critical infrastructure thinking and building started in Nigeria. At the same time Pathfinders programmes in Nigeria have modelled work in close partnership with religious leaders, traditional leaders, community health workers, young people, mothers and fathers on reproductive health and rights,” Watson added.
Giving her remark, Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo, Director, Family Health Department, Federal Ministry of Health, described the COVID-19 pandemic as an incidence that Nigeria should learn from to come up with innovative approaches to close funding gaps for sexual and reproductive health services in the country.
She stated that the modest progress made in sexual and reproductive health services in the country is being challenged by the high out-of-pocket payment for services as well as many health workers at the primary healthcare level lacking constant capacity building to ensure quality service delivery.
Dr. Anas-Kolo however noted; “The use of family planning is still low in Nigeria. We still have a long way to go. Though, we have made some modest progress, if you look at the last 10 years and also if you look at the works that have been done in the past which Pathfinder laid its solid foundation. For us to achieve our desired goals, it means we have to increase the growth of family planning by at least 25 percent."
The family health expert lamented the impact of COVID-19 on reproductive health services. Her words; "And what we have realised is that the COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the weakness in Nigeria health system. It disrupted sexual reproductive health services. On the side of women, they were afraid of contracting the infection."
She noted, "Our policies need to be gender-responsive beyond this pandemic. Another prevailing issue is to build a health system at all levels in case of emergencies."
Sharing his experience, Mr Precious Anslem noted that young people effective access of sexual reproductive services occurs when the services are professional, friendly, unbiased, non-judgmental and accessible.
Anslem said there is need for health programmers to be pragmatic in their planning. “As a healthcare provider, I have encountered some of this and I saw that it is important for programmers and donors to figure out their intervention in specific terms.”
“We also have religious and cultural barriers challenges that young people face when they are accessing services in Nigeria. Many young people became pregnant during the lockdown due to lack of access to services.
“The government needs to do better to ensure that adolescents and youth sexual health policies are favourable and implemented,” Anselm stressed.
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