IPPF Director Challenged on Harmful Contraceptives for African Women

By Lisa Correnti | September 27, 2014

A High Level event at the United Nations this week abruptly ended when a women’s rights attorney directed a question to International Planned Parenthood Federation’s Director General about why harmful contraceptives were targeted to poor women in Africa.

Statement made by Kwame Fosu:

We all believe that women should have access to safe contraception.  However, in Melinda Gates’ 2020 Family Planning Initiative, she is using Sayana Press or Depo Provera as one of the central contraceptives being targeted to African women. Depo Provera has serious side effects.  Bill Gates’ own researcher Dr. Renee Heffron came up with research in October of 2011, which stated that Depo Provera and injectables significantly increased risk of transmitting and acquiring HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but Depo Provera also doubles the risk of breast cancer and causes [excessive] bleeding.  So my question is this: in countries where HIV is a significant problem, where we don’t have access to good healthcare, why would we be using the most dangerous contraceptives for African women, when in countries like Holland, they all use very safe low-dose contraceptives.

Fosu’s statement was made in a meeting co-sponsored by IPPF, Denmark and Liberia which was meant to attract high level ministers in New York for the General Assembly.

Fosu included a reference to Holland because, as public health policy, long-term progesterone contraceptives such as Depo Provera and Norplant are rarely used by women in European countries.

Last year, Fosu released a definitive report charging that organizations like Planned Parenthood (PPFA), are not informing women of the dangerous side effects before administering the implant or injectable. The report details how reproductive rights stakeholders — Gates, USAID, Hewitt and Packard Foundations, western countries’ development assistance programs – largely the U.S., and UK, and PPFA/IPPF are complicit in the scale-up of these harmful drugs.

IPPF’s Director General, Tewodros Melesse, avoided answering Fosu’s question. Instead, Melesse made a general statement supporting Depo Provera, which did not give a reasonable explanation why African women were targeted with dangerous contraceptives rarely used by Caucasian women.

Despite some 30 minutes remaining and an earlier announcement of a second round of questions by the moderator — IPPF President Naomi Seboni abruptly ended the session. According to Fosu, IPPF wanted to avoid follow up questions from African delegates who immediately approached him for information.

The Family Planning initiative launched by Melinda Gates in July 2010 sets an ambitious agenda to reach a 120 million poor women and girls with long acting progesterone contraceptives like Depo Provera rebranded as Sayana Press and the implants, Jadelle and Norplant—removed from US markets in 2002 because of health risks, but still implanted in African women. Gates partnered with the drug manufacturer Pfizer – who at the summit announced they would increase production of the injectable by 50% and commitments of $4.6 billion were secured. This despite a Guttmacher report showing that only 8% of African women had an unmet need for contraception and that all women should be provided full informed consent to avoid coercion.

To commemorate World Contraception Day, the Gates Foundation and USAID released separate statements detailing additional efforts to scale-up Depo Provera and Jadelle. USAID is funding programs in 5 developing countries to trial the new self-inject version of Depo Provera – Sayana Press. Because the FDA has yet to approve Sayana Press, for now, it must be administered by community health workers.

The prioritization of harmful family planning programs over holistic maternal and child health programs will have devastating long term affects on African women. “We are already seeing the results of this,” said Fosu. HIV acquisition has increased among women in many of the regions where Depo Provera is being used and breast cancer in Africa is surging. In Botswana for example HIV rates are at 18% which makes it appalling public health policy to promote contraceptives that exacerbates HIV/AIDS infections, stated Fosu.

Funding for foreign assistance family planning programs reflects the same shift in policy. Family Planning programs have swelled 48% since 2006 where maternal and child health has increased just 16% over the same period.