The Contraceptive Revolution in Benin

The much-anticipated date for the launch of Sayana Press in Benin had arrived. The atmosphere at the venue, a large health center in the arrondissement of Glo-Djigbe, about an hour from Cotonou, was electric. Pink and white banners announced the national launch of Sayana Press, a progestin-only injectable contraceptive that provides three-months of coverage. Colorful booths, staffed by young people wearing t-shirts with the Sayana Press logo, displayed various family planning methods and programs. Attending this launch event was a special joy for me—it not only represented the formal recognition of the contraceptive but was also a culmination of a huge amount of work by our Advancing Partners and Communities team, local partners, and the Ministry of Health, backed by USAID and UNFPA.

“La Revolution Contraceptive en March au Benin!”
~ Romaric Ouitona, Beninois youth ambassador, September 26, 2017

Some of the young people at the Sayana Press launch. Photo credit: USAID/Benin.

Benin, a country of 11 million people, has historically had low levels of family planning use. Current modern-method contraceptive prevalence is low, at 16.1 percent, and unmet need, at 36.3 percent, is high[1]In recent years, its government has shown a strong commitment to improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes. The launch of Sayana Press is a milestone that will give women and young people a chance to meet their reproductive needs.

Three months prior to the event, the easy-to-use, prefilled, injectable contraceptive was introduced to the country. Since then, it has reached more than 450 women and the response to its availability has been overwhelmingly positive. Three years ago, when Benin hovered near the bottom of the world statistics on contraceptive prevalence, and all we heard from naysayers was how “impossible and culturally sensitive” family planning is in the country, I might not have bet very much on this being a success. But it has been so far, and all signs show it promises to go further, even faster.

Sayana Press Launch in Benin
Click to see more pictures from the event.

It was fitting that the  Beninese Ministry of Health chose World Contraception Day 2017 to formally acknowledge Sayana Press as a fully registered contraceptive choice in the country. People who gathered at the event to celebrate the preliminary rollout success and official launch included excited newly graduated community health workers; traditionally-clad local, religious, and cultural elders; enthusiastic young volunteers; government officials; international partner representatives; local press; and community members. And of course, there were the Zangbeto (night hunters)—the frightening and exotic traditional dancers.

Nothing could dampen the mood, not even the rain that started just before the program began. It was a tropical deluge, dumping huge quantities of water in a short time. Everyone scrambled for cover, but the carnival atmosphere continued. People laughed and said that the rain was a blessing. We quickly relocated to a meeting room on the premises and the ceremony commenced.

Civil and Ministry of Health authorities lauded the launch of Sayana Press, which is “easy to use, effective, and available at a low price.” They thanked USAID, UNFPA, FP2020, and JSI, which has, through Advancing Partners & Communities, helped Benin make Sayana Press widely available by training the community health workers who will administer it.

The highlight of the event was not the speeches, but the sketches, songs, and demonstration of the method organized by youth and community health workers. These were humorous, informational, and fun! As the trained community health workers received their formal certifications, the crowd cried, “Vive Sayana Press! Vive Benin!”

How exciting! Not only does the official launch bring a convenient, safe, and effective method closer to clients in need, but it also validates my lifelong faith in the power of communities. For a health professional, what can be more satisfying than being part of the birth of a movement?

Read more: Launching a Revolution: Sayana Press Introduction in Benin

[1] 2015–2016 FP2020 Progress Report: Momentum at the Midpoint.

 

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