“Opportunity arises and the man was there”
A crisp quote from which the man known as the “Father” of Family Planning, Prof. Fred Torgbor Sai describes his life’s work in the field of sexual and reproductive health and family planning.
Today Friday 27 June 2014 members of the reproductive health fraternity in Ghana and abroad, his family and the Government of Ghana gather to honour Prof. F.T. Sai as he is simply known as part of the activities marking his 90th birthday.
Prof Sai is a Ghanaian and World renowned medical academic, researcher and author who became the first head of the National Population Council, and President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation of Ghana (IPPF).
He pushed the novel idea of family planning policy in Ghana. When I asked him what his fondest memory was, he said, “I think my fondest memory was the day we founded the Ghana Family Planning Association in 1967 and followed it up with convincing and getting government to come out with a family planning program”.
His drive, commitment and sense of purpose have placed family planning and sexual reproductive health issues on the development agenda.
Healthcare practitioners, development academics, government and the United Nations have recognised this and have therefore made child and maternal health a major target of the millennium development goals 4 and 5.
Currently, according to the Ghana Health Service Ghana’s maternal mortality rate is 350 deaths per 100,000 births.
That’s still too high. The MDG target demands we reduce the figure by 75 percent to less than a 100 deaths.
One way to reduce maternal deaths is to reduce the number of pregnancies per woman by using family planning.
According to research by U.K. think tank, PEW, more than 52 percent of Ghana’s population is morally opposed to contraception use.
The Ghana Health Service estimates that contraception use is at 23 percent.
Though Prof. Sai believes the rate is a bit higher he states that for a country that started family planning policy 50 years ago we are still lagging behind.
“… I think family planning has not got the political support that it requires…our cultural positions Nyame b3 may3 children and all that. But one thing I am sure of is that where family planning has succeeded to my knowledge from Asia to Latin America it has received strong political support” on culture Prof. Sai insists Government has to tackle the cultural beliefs and cultural positions head on and tell the traditional authorities times are changing. When we wanted 10 children per family, the family was in agriculture rural work every hand was good helping to till. Work is not done like that anymore. Children are to have quality to do different types of work and they should have quality education”
Though Family Planning services in Ghana’s public hospitals are subsidised, many women still cannot afford them.
The pioneer reproductive health campaigner stressed that the needless maternal deaths of adolescent girls and young women will be reduced if family planning services are free under the revolutionary free maternal health services introduced by the John Agyekum Kufuor Administration in 2007.
There obviously is the need to establish more youth friendly health service areas for both sexually transmitted infection advice and sexuality in general.
But one of the issues that Prof. Sai is famous and controversial for is his stance on abortion.
He is convinced that any young girl or woman who wants an abortion should be allowed to have one in a safe medical environment.
“Right now abortion can be done without any real medical clinical surgical [intervention] without any risk, practically none. With a couple of tablets and 24 hours surveillance…and for the nursing staff to be trained psychologically and practically to handle these things properly”
It is one of the reasons why the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo is most famous.
Prof. Sai was chairman for that conference despite a letter of opposition from the Vatican challenging the conference agenda.
Nonetheless, the lasttwo2 decades of family planning and reproductive health policies have evolved since that conference.
But Prof. Sai’s admonition to members of the reproductive health and family planning fraternity in Ghana is to seek out the “30 percent unmet need for family planning and push access further.”
In ending my 15 minute chat with 90 year old Prof F.T. Sai who has worked in Sexual, Reproductive Health and Family Planning for 50 years, I asked him what his one hope for Ghana is? He paused and gave me this thought provoking answer: “I really hope that Ghana will understand that sexual and rep health for women is the one activity that stimulates and completes our quest for women’s empowerment and equality. When the country understands that and puts it into action I will die happy and I hope that men will understand that they are not stand by partners but they are active partners in this”
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