Parliamentary study tour to Niger focuses on supplies
20th February 2008
European Parliamentarians have recently returned from a study tour to Niger held from February 5-11, 2008, co-organized by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF) and Equilibres & Populations (E&P). This week-long study tour focused on reproductive health (RH), including access to essential commodities and supplies, and the impact of these on the country's population growth. This study tour, hosted by UNFPA Country Office and the Nigerian Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, offered a deep insight into how Niger, the poorest country in the world, is developing policies on RH, and enabled the Parliamentary Delegation to investigate the impact of population and RH policies on the country´s development.
The delegation visited various local initiatives dealing with sexual and reproductive health issues, such as the Gamkale Centre called "K-pote Kiosque", which provides youth friendly services in a communication change behaviour perspective. In Niger, the contraception prevalence is very low at 5% for modern methods. This youth center provides condoms while promoting interpersonnal communication on HIV and STIs and unwanted pregnancy prevention with the help of peer-educators. The Kpote-Kiosque is also positioned as a resource centre referring clients to partners specialized in STD treatment, HIV testing, care and psycho-social support. The project puts a great emphasis on involving all community leaders - immams, traditionnal leaders, parents, womens groups and youth people.
The delegation also visited the Boukoki Centre, supported by UNFPA and the German government, which is a multifunctional centre welcoming and informing young people about RH, providing sexual education and peer educator trainings, including condom promotion activities. This centre also enables young people to carry out various sports, teaches young girls about family planning, HIV/AIDS prevention, hygiene and nutrition and also provides access to various activities, such as sewing, knitting, embroidery, cooking, childcare. The young people have created a radio programme aimed at raising awareness about the importance of education, contraception and enabling the promotion of RH care. One of the features of the programme is a so-called green line, where people can call in for free and ask for help and advice.
In the company of the President of the National Assembly, the delegation visited the National Hospital of Niamey, where the delegation learned about health service provision, treatment and care with a specific focus on obstetric fistula, which is dramatically high in Niger - approximately 1,500 to 2,000 new cases each year - and mainly due to early marriages/pregnancies. The hospital provides counselling and treatment services, but the doctors emphasized the challenges of the lack of space, human and financial resources. The delegation also visited DIMOL NGO´s Centre, which aims to help women to reintegrate into their communities.
At the beginning of the week participants were introduced to the successes and challenges related to sexual and RH and population growth in Niger through a working session at UNFPA Offices, including representatives from four Nigerian Parliamentary Networks (Population and Development/ Gender/ HIV/AIDS/ Youth), technical experts, the Director of the National Statistics Institute and United Nations Agencies. The presentations and discussions continued the following day with a multi-stakeholders meeting hosted by the World Bank, including two senior expert demographers, representatives from the Nigerian Parliamentary Network on Population and Development, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the French Development Agency, the French Ambassador, and the UNFPA. By the end of the week-long visit, the delegation met with the President of the Republic of Niger, the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly, Ministries of Health/Population/Youth/Promotion of Women/Sports/Education, Parliamentarians of the above Parliamentary Networks, traditional and religious leaders and UNFPA, who reiterated their commitment to the population issue and provided an overview of their activities within the country. They all agreed that it is urgent to take action and implement the strategies in place with the help of local traditional and religious leaders.
During the closing press conference, European Parliamentarians voiced that they were impressed with the strategic planning that is taking place regarding population growth and maternal health care sector and also emphasized the financial and human resources challenge that Niger is facing and the need to strengthen Parliamentary budgetary scrutiny given the new trend of directing aid via general budget support in recipient countries. The European Parliamentarians consequently committed to reporting back on these challenges to their own Foreign Ministries and Development Ministers in order to help try and shape future aid policies.
The French-speaking study tour was composed of a high-level delegation, including Hon. Dr Karl Addicks, German Liberal MP (FDP) member of the DSW Parliamentary Advisory Committee, Hon. Françoise Castex, French socialist MEP member of the Committee on Development in the European Parliament, Lord Lea of Crondall, Labour, member of the UK House of Lords and of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, Hon. Michel Terrot, French Conservative MP member of the French Foreign Affairs Committee and Hon. Hilde Vautmans, Flemish Liberal MP, member of EPF Executive Committee and Chair of the Belgian Foreign Affairs Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, also member of the EPF member group, the Belgian Parliamentary Group on the MDGs.