Dhaka: Amid much expectations and liveliness, a week-long international conference titled ‘Sahel-Bangladesh Knowledge Exchange on Population Policy and Reproductive Health’ kicked off at Hotel Lake Shore at Gulshan area in the capital on Saturday afternoon.
A number of more than 60 high-level government delegates from five Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Cote d'Ivoire and Chad – including Minister of Population of Niger Rakiatou Kaffa Jackou and Sambel Bana Diallo, Minister for Territorial and Population Management of Mali, along with participants from various international organisations are taking part in the mega conference, jointly organised by the World Bank (WB) and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and hosted by the Ministry of Health and Family welfare of Bangladesh.
Dr Zahid Malik, State Minister of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh, was the chief guest at the kick-off ceremony of the conference.
Mentionable, Sahel is a northern region of Africa that stretches beside the great Sahara Desert from the Atlantic Ocean eastward through northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, the great bend of the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), southern Niger, northeastern Nigeria, south-central Chad, and into Sudan.
The high-level South-South exchange on population policy and reproductive health between Bangladesh and Sahel countries in Francophone Africa is scheduled to end on May 20.
It is being expected that the South-South knowledge exchange between Bangladesh and Sahel countries will promote more effective population policies in the African countries.
The objective of the high-level conference is to learn about the Bangladesh population policy, and how reproductive health service was increased in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a similar religious context to Sahel countries, and historically has faced many of the same challenges. Specifically, these are the success and challenges of population programme, sexual and reproductive health and rights including family planning and gender based violence. The countries will see about Bangladesh successes in relation to the family planning and reproductive health services to enhance acceptance of local communities, said speakers at the inaugural session of the conference.
In the opening remarks, Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh said that Bangladesh is successful because they put women at the center of agenda for development, including government-NGOs collaboration for addressing family planning and population challenges.
State minister Zahid Malik welcomed the delegation from the Sahel countries, and shared many successes of Bangladesh, specifically in the health sector.
Portraying the beauty of a country ‘criss-crossed by 300 rivers’ and having the largest mangrove forest of the world, he welcomed the delegates from different African nations, saying, “I hope your stay here will be comfortable and enjoyable.”
Mentioning that there was a time when an entire village was wiped out by epidemics like cholera and diarrhea, he said, “After the independence more than four decades ago, 80 pc Bangladeshis lived below the poverty line while at present the situation is totally opposite with only 20 pc people under the poverty line. Now, we are proud to be able to feed our own people.”
He also said, “Maintaining strong political commitment and taking actions according to the priority, women’s representation in administration and politics is also remarkable. Lot of laws have been enacted to prevent gender based violence. Family planning to control the population health system started from the community clinic, family welfare centre, sub-district and district hospitals where free services, medicines and contraceptives are available. That’s how our CPR has become 62%. To make health system stronger, IT facilities were given – laptop and mobile phones – to the service providers, getting regular data from the field about how many pregnant mothers needed support.”
Argentina Matavel Piccin, UNFPA Representative of Bangladesh, said, “Successive governments were committed and provided strong leadership for family planning. They were successful in spreading the message of family planning and the benefits of small families to every corner of the country through women health workers by going door to door. Strong government commitment towards women’s empowerment and women’s rights, increased participation of women in decision making and income generating activities contributed to Bangladesh’s achievements in the health of women , i.e. maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is 170 per 100,000 live births now which means 56 percent decline from the MMR of 382 in 2001.
Affirming that Bangladesh has started getting the fruits of demographic developments, Argentina said, “The current fertility rate in the Sahel countries is equal to what Bangladesh had long time ago. We can’t see the development of a country immediately, I hope within 10 years Sahel countries also would drastically decrease its present alarming fertility rate, if they can realise and implement the population policies Bangladesh adopted facing population challenge.”
“During the week we will have the chance to share the knowledge Bangladesh government implemented to tackle the population problem,” she added.
At the inaugural session, Rakiatou Kaffa Jackou said, “I would like to express my happiness for being able to visit this beautiful country. I hope during my visit here I will be able to enrich my knowledge over how Bangladesh succeeded involving the religious leaders in the implementation of population control policy. In Niger, we face a similar challenges that Bangladesh had several decades ago. I hope we will get suggestions from our Bangladeshi counterparts how delivery of health services can be improved, how it can reach the doors of rural people.
Sambel Bana Diallo, Minister for Territorial and Population Management, Mali, thanked the government of Bangladesh for hosting the international conference. He said, “In Mali, we had political unrest and Bangladesh deployed military that helped bring peace in our country. So, at first, I would like to express my gratitude to the people of Bangladesh for standing beside us during the times of unrest. I would also like to thank the World Bank for organising this knowledge sharing conference that I am sure will help us to sort out our priorities in developing Mali’s new Population Policy for 2016-2020.”
JosianeYaguibou, UNFPA Representative, Mali, Justin Koffi, SWEDD Regional Coordinator (UNFPA West and Central Africa Regional Office), World Bank Africa Region and other High level delegates from Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger and officials from UN, WB, NGOs and Civil Society were also present at the event.
Dr Bushra Binte Alam, Senior Health Specialist, WB Bangladesh, conducted the inaugural session of the high level international conference.