8 March 2018
Concerned about the impact of these problems on communities and ecosystems, Peace Parks Foundation launched a community health programme with a specific focus on reproductive health, as part of its conservation efforts in Mozambique’s Maputo Special and Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserves.
The first phase of the project, saw the Foundation enter into a strategic planning partnership with Blue Ventures, a UK-based conservation agency that develops transformative approaches for catalysing and sustaining locally led marine conservation.
Blue Ventures recognises complex links between poor health, unmet family planning needs, food insecurity, environmental degradation and a vulnerability to climate change. To address these challenges holistically, the organisation developed an approach which integrates community health services with marine conservation and coastal livelihood initiatives. Blue Ventures’ population, health and environment support officer, Urszula Stankiewicz shared, “If women have access to family planning, they can be autonomous and be involved in both economic activities and conservation programmes. This promotes food security and decreases pressure on natural resources which ultimately positively impacts conservation in the area.”
In 2016, Peace Parks Foundation embarked on a journey of discovery to learn as much as possible from Blue Ventures - even travelling to Blue Venture’s projects on Madagascar’s west coast where they spent several days immersed in holistic community-based work and tailored interactive training sessions covering a variety of technical Population-Health-Environment topics.
This collaboration led to the development of a detailed strategy to ensure that communities gain access to family planning services and contraceptives and are informed about their reproductive rights. The process also identified the need for the appointment and training of community-level champions, or so-called activistas (community health workers).
Enter the activista
With the initial strategy as a solid roadmap, AMODEFA, a Mozambican-based non-profit organisation that specialises in community health projects, was appointed mid-2017 as an implementation partner. With support from Peace Parks Foundation, they are responsible for training and supporting 15 activitas as community health representatives. Ten of these activistas have concluded their training and already passionately taken up their new duties in the villages bordering the reserves.
A lack of formal education also has an impact on women’s attitudes towards contraceptives. Maria Ndala, a 34-year-old mother of six is her husband’s third wife. Her two sister wives each has five children. Her mother had refused to send her to school saying that it was more important for her to start working and contributing to the family’s income. Maria says, “I have always been aware of family planning, but there were many myths surrounding the use of contraceptives, so I was too scared to use them. The costs involved in traveling to the clinic also made it very difficult. After the activista explained how the birth control medication worked I decided to start taking the pills, because our family simply cannot afford to support any more children.”
The next phase of this project will aim to include increased access to reproductive health information and services, and broaden the scope of intervention to also include access to information and basic healthcare. Lessons learned from the successes achieved here will be used to develop and implement similar projects in other transfrontier conservation areas across the region.