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Watchdog slams DFID for focusing on family planning at the expense of maternal health

30 October 2018


"DFID did not pursue the strengthening of health systems to provide quality maternal care with the same intensity as it did for family planning..."

Most of the "lives saved" were by preventing them through contraception and abortion 

The Department for International Development (Dfid) has come under fire for exaggerating the number of lives saved by foreign aid programmes, as well as for the undue focus on family planning.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (Icai), which scrutinises aid spending, has released a new report in which it takes apart the boast that Britain has saved the lives of 103,000 women in developing countries by improving maternal health. They said this claim was flawed and based on  unrealistic assumptions, and that officials failed to make it public when they were forced to revise downwards by almost 23,000. 

"Saving" lives through stopping them

Furthermore, nearly all the maternal lives they claim to have "saved" were through preventative family planning programmes - i.e stopping children being born to begin with.

For example, Dfid calculated that its aid programmes in Malawi had saved 10,100 mothers’ lives between 2011 and 2015, but Icai said this figure was "very likely too large". The report said: "This was almost entirely from family planning interventions, which were estimated to have saved 9,700 lives by preventing unwanted pregnancies. Taking other data into account, it is unlikely Dfid saved that many lives through family planning interventions within such a short timescale."

Around 75% of the total estimated 'maternal lives saved' by DFID bilateral programmes related to family planning interventions.

Not actually helping women

The report also criticised Dfid for focusing its efforts too much on family planning measures, such as offering contraception and abortions, rather than improving hospital care for women giving birth.

It said: "We find that the intensive focus on family planning, while valuable in its own right, has left the wider maternal health portfolio without a balanced approach across the different interventions that are needed to achieve significant reductions in maternal mortality over the medium- to longterm. Furthermore, we identified a number of shortcomings in the quality of maternal health and family planning services offered."

For example, "progress on improving emergency obstetric and neonatal care has been well short of targets". Most damningly, the report says: "most maternal deaths result from intentional pregnancies, rather than accidental ones, and are therefore not prevented by access to contraception...We find that DFID did not pursue the strengthening of health systems to provide quality maternal care with the same intensity as it did for family planning, nor did it do enough to address the barriers that the poorest women face in accessing health services."

Obsession with abortion costing lives

The Icai report serves to validate concerns that DFID pushes the abortion agenda at the expense of women's lives. As Fiorella Nash explores in detail in her new book, The Abolition of Woman, the push to end "unsafe abortion" (which is given no clear definition) means resources are diverted from interventions which are known to reduce maternal mortality. For example, in a DFID report on maternal health, the deadliest complication (haemorrhage) is mentioned twice, post-partum infection is mentioned twice, while abortion crops up 71 times.  

Dfid is by far the biggest single contributor to Marie Stopes International, giving the abortion giant £44 million in 2017. It is also one of the beneficiaries of an additional £200 million the Prime Minister recently earmarked for family planning in Africa and Asia.   

Obianuju Ekeocha of Culture of Life Africa has repeatedly slammed Western countries funding abortion and contraception as a means of alleviating poverty as a form of "ideological colonisation". She has also worked to impose MSI's record of performing illegal abortions in a number of African countries, including in her new documentary, Strings Attached. 

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