Flip open a copy of a popular West African travel guide, and you’ll find the following description: “West Africa has cachet and soul. Home to African landscapes of our imaginations and inhabited by an astonishing diversity of traditional peoples, this is Africa as it once was.” Colorful and diverse, West Africa is a unique region that comprises 18 of the continent’s 54 countries.
What the guide likely won’t mention is the increasing challenges of reaching women with reproductive health care, particularly in the French-speaking parts of the Sahel region. High unmet need for quality family planning - combined with high fertility rates, widespread food insecurity, and political and social unrest - make work in the Sahel challenging, but all the more necessary to reach women and their families with comprehensive family planning services.
Significant population growth appears to be the strongest force driving the region's potentially turbulent future. With annual demographic growth rates ranging from 2.5 percent to nearly 4 percent, the population will continue to grow beyond the region's capacity. This growth has occurred because of commendable rapid decreases in infant and child mortality but lagging decreases in fertility.
With an average of about 4 to 7 children per woman, the region's population might increase from almost 135 million today to 330 million by 2050 and close to 670 million in 2100.
Marie Stopes recently increased our commitment to the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal to Sudan. Our first center launched in the region in 2008, and MSI now serves women and girls with life-saving access to reproductive care in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
In 2016, MSI had 27 outreach teams, more than 250 franchisees, 40 Marie Stopes Ladies, two call centers and over 500 staff members in the region.
MSI initially began providing services in the Sahel through separate country programs. But due to some common characteristics of these countries, as well as the need for greater resources in the region, we have recently created an ambitious strategy for the Sahel to respond to the growing demand for family planning and safe abortion services.
Our programs include:
Our services have just scratched the surface of need in the Sahel. For instance, one of the greatest challenges across the region remains reaching adolescent girls (ages 15-19) with contraceptive services. The birth rate in the Sahel remains one of the highest in the world, but in all of the countries where we work in the region, less than 8% of adolescent girls uses modern contraception. As the largest generation in history reaches maturity, MSI has made it a priority to reach adolescent girls with comprehensive, stigma-free reproductive counseling and services in the Sahel and beyond.