Nigerian woman warns Gates against pushing birth control in Africa

By Michelle Bauman

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Melinda Gates speaking at the opening of the London Summit on Family Planning. Credit: UK Department for International Development (CC BY-SA 2.0).

A Nigerian woman is asking philanthropist Melinda Gates to reconsider her push for birth control in poor countries, explaining that African women neither need nor want contraception.

“Growing up in a remote town in Africa, I have always known that a new life is welcomed with much mirth and joy,” said Obianuju Ekeocha, a biomedical scientist who is currently working in Canterbury, England.

In an open letter published Aug. 10 by the Catholic Free Press, Ekeocha told Gates that “we, as a society, love and welcome babies.”

“The first day of every baby’s life is celebrated by the entire village,” she said, describing the dancing, clapping and singing that greet each new life. 

Ekeocha explained that with all the “challenges and difficulties” that come with living in Africa, people “lament their problems openly.” Yet growing up this environment, she continued, “I have never heard a woman complain about her baby,” either before or after birth.

In the midst of affliction and instability, she said, “our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future.”
The 32-year-old Nigerian woman voiced dismay at Gates’ recent announcement that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was securing $4.6 billion dollars to promote contraceptives in poor nations, including numerous African countries.

Many of the nations that will be targeted by Gates’ initiative are Catholic countries, where sex is highly regarded as “sacred and private,” she said, explaining that unlike the Western world, many people in Africa are happily complying with Church teaching on sexuality.

But spending billions of dollars to present sex as “a casual pleasure sport” with no consequences will “undoubtedly start to erode and poison the moral sexual ethics that have been woven into our societal DNA by our faith,” she said.  
She cautioned that providing “unlimited and easy availability of contraceptives” will lead to a rise in infidelity and sexual promiscuity, along with an increase in sexually-transmitted diseases as people feel free to take up multiple sex partners.

“I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery,” Ekeocha said. “I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children.”

“I see it buying us disease and untimely death,” she added. “I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.”

Furthermore, she warned, complications caused by contraceptive drugs – such as blood clots – could easily result in death in countries without access to emergency health care.

She also observed that the lack of advanced sewage disposal in Africa means that the safe disposal of the drugs would be a problem.
Ekeocha begged Gates to “listen to the heart-felt cry of an African woman” and give her money to resources that the people truly need. 
Chief among these needs is a good health care system, she said, especially for prenatal, neonatal and pediatric needs.

High rates of postpartum and neonatal deaths are often cited as reasons for promoting contraception in African countries. However, Ekeocha explained, women “are not dying because they are having ‘too many’ babies but because they are not getting even the most basic postpartum care.”

Without adequate medical personnel and equipment, a complication in childbirth can prove fatal, she said.

In addition, she said, the people of Africa need food programs for young children, better educational opportunities, support for micro-businesses and aid for nongovernmental organizations that protect women from prostitution, forced marriages and domestic violence.

There is also a need for programs that emphasize chastity, since Western influences have already confused many African girls about sexual morality, she added.
A gift of $4.6 billion dollars “can indeed be your legacy to Africa and other poor parts of the world,” Ekeocha told Gates. “But let it be a legacy that leads life, love and laughter into the world in need.”

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