The what, why and how of health and development

Women in an isolated Sierra Leone fishing community access contraception for the first time

Obstacles to accessing reproductive health services often can involve complex issues around community and cultural attitudes, stigma, or education. But for some, the problem is one of simple geographical location.

Off the coast of Sierra Leone’s, not far from the capital Freetown, is a fishing community made up of 25,000 people who inhabit 40 islands. Only accessible by navigating through turbulent waterways, creeks, and swamps, members of this large island community are often isolated from basic social services. Reaching even the largest and most accessible island could take up to two days in bad conditions.

For thousands of women living on these islands, being cut off from mainland health services meant being unable to access effective contraception. But since the introduction of a new speedboat by Marie Stopes International last December, some women have been able to access family planning for the first time.

Both Marie and Baindu are women in their thirties who live on Benducha Island with their families. Marie has eight children, Baindu has six, and neither wants to any more. But until Marie Stopes International were able to bring reproductive services to the islands both women were using herbs for contraception. This had failed them, making it very difficult for them to choose the size of their families. The speedboat, funded by money from DFID and the EC, has been running for just a few months but has provided more than 3000 women and men, reaching 10% of the population on the islands.

This is a great example of a financial aid being used to back a sustainable local solution to the problem of contraceptive access, an issue that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. If only the delivery of all reproductive health services had such a simple answer!

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