With a population doubling time of approximately 20 years, an average fertility rate of over 5 births per woman and nearly half of the country’s population under fifteen years of age, Madagascar has one of the fastest growing populations of any country in the world (Institute National de la Statistique Ministère de l’Economie, 2005). Currently only one in five women in union has access to contraception (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).
The importance of meeting the need for family planning services is clearly recognised, by the Government of Madagascar as well as by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working within the country. A considerable commitment has been made by the government to meet the challenge of providing reproductive health services. This effort has seen impressive results, particularly in urban areas, with increasing numbers of women in union having access to contraception. Few of the country’s less accessible, rural areas, however, have so far benefited from this commitment.
In addition, Madagascar is experiencing huge increases in the incidence of sexually transmissible infections (STIs), with a number of infections having reached epidemic proportions in recent years (Donnelly, 2004). With the increasing movement of people within the country, even geographically isolated communities are witnessing an increase in the incidence of STIs. Many of these communities have no access to health care. Current HIV prevalence in Madagascar is under 2% (Mohan, 2004), but this prevalence is predicted to increase dramatically if the appropriate measures to avoid an HIV epidemic are not taken (Donnelly, 2004).
The remote coastal village of Andavadoaka, with a population of 1,500, is situated in the arid southwest of Madagascar, approximately 200km north of the regional capital, Toliara. Its inhabitants belong mainly to the Vezo ethnic group, a semi-nomadic people with close cultural ties to the marine environment, for whom fishing is commonly the only source of family income. The region has very limited public facilities, and road access to Andavadoaka and neighbouring Vezo villages is very difficult. Communities depend on travel by traditional Vezo pirogues (sailing canoes) to journey between villages, with transport limited by the state of the wind and sea. Owing to the isolation and lack of infrastructure, access to sexual and reproductive health services is very limited. Initial research revealed the average fertility rate in the village to be higher than the national average, with anecdotal reports suggestive of high rates of untreated STIs in the village.
The rapidly growing coastal population of the southwest region poses a serious threat to the sustainability of the region’s coral reefs and other marine resources, upon which the livelihoods and economic wellbeing of the Vezo communities depend. Ensuring adequate provision of family planning services is recognised as being an important component of environmental management efforts focused on promoting more sustainable resource use. In August 2007, Blue Ventures, a conservation and development NGO based in Andavadoaka, supported the development of a family planning clinic for the village (Mohan, 2007 & 2008).
Following the successful establishment of the clinic within Andavadoaka, the service received widespread demand for expansion of its scope and outreach to incorporate neighbouring Vezo communities along approximately 40km of coastline. Responding effectively to meet this demand is considered a priority for conservation planning in the region. In addition to taking measures to prevent an epidemic of HIV and other STIs in the region, this has led to the development of an action plan to expand Blue Ventures’ sexual and reproductive health service to reach 24 further villages in southwest Madagascar (please see map on page 2). All of these villages currently work in partnership with Blue Ventures scientists as part of efforts to support the development of the Velondriake network of community managed marine and coastal protected areas (http://www.livewiththesea.org).
This document summarises the strategic plan for expansion and development of sexual and reproductive health services to the villages of Velondriake.