Octopuses and Contraceptives: Notes from the Population, Health, and Environment Conference


The buzz of intense conversation didn’t stop…in less than two days, a select group of 150 delegates to the Population, Health, and Environment  (PHE) Conference in Addis Ababa produced an impressive list of recommendations reflecting work in the Philippines, Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia among other countries.  PHE is a severely under-funded initiative, struggling to find its way among the sectoral approaches favored by donors.

The conference advanced the state of knowledge about PHE, with a large working group proposing a list of key principles for PHE programs by synthesizing information across global experience.  A lively debate started in a plenary session about “value added” and continued throughout the discussions in the monitoring and evaluation working group and back into the final plenary session:  what exactly is the value added by PHE programming? How do we measure the synergy? Can we capture the impact of these programs on attitudes and behaviors of integrated PHE projects?

Notably, the group also debated the merits and disadvantages of scaling-up.  In the case of PHE, not everyone believes scale-up is necessarily the best overall goal—much of the success of PHE projects is their effectiveness in with specific communities living in and around fragile ecological zones. Linked to this discussion is the question of whether or not PHE funding should continue to focus on areas of high biodiversity or those surrounding them that have already been damaged and need restoration.

So, what does the future hold for PHE work?

Certainly, there needs to be a lot more emphasis on documenting impact including value added, and sharing the results.

A deliberate effort to expand the voices around the table to include United Nations and European development agencies needs to take place.

In addition, bringing in youth and young adults committed to both reproductive rights and conservation will enrich dialogue and increase chances of sustainability.  Linked to the absence of some has been the perceived over-emphasis on family planning instead of broader sexual and reproductive rights, and less visible work in other maternal and child health activities.

So what do octopuses have to do with it?

Octopus management figures prominently in a PHE project in southern Madagascar, where coastal communities are protecting marine resources and improving health.  The UK charity Blue Ventures gained their trust by increasing octopus yield and working together to begin new health, nutrition, and livelihood initiatives.  JSI is a new partner of Blue Ventures as they move their successful PHE model into new areas in western Madagascar. The PHE Conference has been a wonderful opportunity to share this integrated, multi-sectoral development model and to gain new perspectives on how other holistic interventions are measuring their impact.


Notes:  The 2013 PHE Conference was sponsored by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and USAID, and convened by the Population Reference Bureau and the PHE Ethiopia Consortium.  The last PHE conference was held in 2007, six years ago. No future conferences are scheduled.

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