Nigerian bishops criticize push for contraceptive funding

By Michelle Bauman

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USAID relief supplies are placed on a pallet for loading onto a C-130 aircraft (File Photo). Credit: Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens.

Increased funding for contraceptives in developing countries is not only unnecessary and unwanted, said the bishops of Nigeria, but ignores the real needs of the people. 

“Policies aimed at stemming population growth, which tend to isolate growth in numbers from the cultural, religious and moral orientations of the people often turn out to be counter- productive and destructive of their social fabric,” said the bishops of Nigeria in a statement.

On Sept. 26, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new partnership to fund “affordable modern contraception” for some 27 million women in poor countries.

The partnership involves the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway, along with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and other groups.

Pharmaceutical firm Bayer HealthCare AG has agreed to offer one of its contraceptive devices, Jadelle, for less than half of its normal price in return for a pledge to fund “at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years.”

The device is inserted by a trained medical professional into the upper arm, where it can remain for up to five years, releasing hormones to provide “protection against pregnancy.”

The agreement was praised by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, as well as former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who observed that promoting contraception in developing countries "not only has a substantial impact on individual lives, but on entire societies.”
 
The partnership is intended to prevent almost 30 million pregnancies from 2013 to 2018, saving approximately $250 million in global health costs and working towards a United Nations goal “to reduce the number of infant and young child deaths.”
 
In announcing the agreement, USAID pointed to a survey indicating that approximately 600 million women in the developing world are already using some form of contraception, such as condoms or the pill.

Increased funding is necessary, the organization said, because few of these women are using “long-acting, modern devices.”

Recent moves to push contraception in poor countries have drawn criticism from those within the country who say that they will negatively impact the culture and harm the people. In the survey referenced by USAID, no more than 20 percent of respondents said that they would prefer longer-acting types of contraception even if they were available.

The Nigerian bishops recently spoke out against a separate decision reported by the Federal Ministry of Health to use millions of dollars of public funding for “family planning commodities.”

“(T)he estimated population of 160 million Nigerians ought to be an asset, or resource to be cultivated, rather than an undesirable burden to be lightened by any means, foul or fair,” they said.

The bishops attributed the decision to vulnerable leadership and international campaigns “to control population growth especially in poorer countries of the world.”

They criticized “what appears to be a shocking lack of critical thinking on the whole dynamics of population growth, technological development, social stability and the economic fortunes of a people.”
 
The push for “reproductive commodities” is an “affront on the religious and moral sensibilities of a cross section of Nigerians whose family life conduct remains subject to their religious beliefs and ethos,” the bishops argued.

Furthermore, they said, the $11.3 million investment in contraception is a “gross misplacement of priorities” in a country with fundamental health struggles such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Concerns over the United States’ push for contraception and abortion in poor countries have been raised numerous times in recent years. In 2010, the U.S. government came under fire for accusations that it had used taxpayer funds to promote abortion in Kenya’s new constitution.

In addition, the African Anti-Abortion Coalition has said that USAID gave $8.3 million to “reproductive health” clinics, including those that perform abortions and human egg trafficking for embryonic stem cell research, in a 2011 partnership with Nigeria’s Diamond Bank.

In a communique issued at the conclusion of a meeting of the Nigerian bishops from Sept. 8-14, 
Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos and Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Lagos, who lead the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, warned of a “debasement” of human sexuality.

“We denounce the relentless efforts of many Western nations’ development programmes and the United Nations’ agencies to pressurize and manipulate countries in Africa, especially Nigeria, to embrace an anti-life culture and anti-life programmes,” they said.

Abortion and contraception are often promoted by these agencies “under the guise of population control, eradication of HIV-AIDS, and the promotion of so-called women’s reproductive health rights,” they observed.

The bishops called for a “wholesome responses to global issues,” a respect for human sexuality and a focus on improving health care systems for women and their children.

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