A new 12 million dollar family planning drive launched here Wednesday shows how Obama administration funding has revamped a contraception drive in Africa and developing states, UN officials said, noting a sharp turnaround from the Bush era.
The change in US policy was praised at a three-day conference on family planning in Kampala which launched the project to improve access to contraceptives for women in six African nations as well as Indonesia and Pakistan.
UN health workers said the drive spearheaded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and several partners might not have been possible under former US president George W.Bush.
In 2001, Bush re-activated the Mexico City Policy, which precluded the US from funding any international organisation that provides abortion services or counselling, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a key player in promoting family planning in Africa.
In January, just days after he was sworn in, US President Barack Obama rescinded the policy.
Obama publicly distanced himself from Bush's approach in a January 23 speech that said the previous policy "undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in the developing world".
"Certainly politics played its affect in development aid, but I think that what we can see now is the new administration going forward in an integrated way," said Janet Jackson of UNFPA, one of more than 1,000 health workers from 59 countries at the conference.
Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Kenya will share in the 12-million dollar funding, but international organisations still have to persuade certain African governments that it is in their interest to curb population growth.
Public health experts said some, notably Rwanda and Malawi, have embraced the message, but the nation hosting the conference continues to provide mixed messages about fertility rates.
Ugandan women have 6.7 children each and the population is growing 3.2 percent per year, one of the highest rates in the world according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB).
"This rapid population growth is contributing to the degradation of Uganda?s natural resources, the backbone of Uganda?s economy and household livelihoods," the PRB said in research released in June.
Some government officials, including the health and ethics ministers, have called on Ugandans to only produce the number of children they can afford, but President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly urged Ugandans to have large families.
"I think other governments and other countries do look to the US for leadership in this area," said Scott Radloff, USAID's population and reproductive health director, adding that renewed American focus on the issue might help shape events across the continent.