Around the Institute

PRESS RELEASE: “Unusual Suspects” are Transforming Access to Reproductive Health Services

May 20, 2013  • Institute Contributor

Contact: Elise Mann
Aspen Global Health and Development
The Aspen Institute

“Unusual Suspects” are Transforming Access to Reproductive Health Services
GLC Recognizes the Gambia, Kenya, Zambia, and Sierra Leone with 2013 Resolve Award

Washington, DC, May 20, 2013 –There is a global consensus that family planning and reproductive health is a life-saving, cost effective intervention that jumpstarts development.  Yet, 222 million women worldwide still have an unmet need for family planning. Those who are working to meet that need—in some of the poorest, most remote regions of the world—face daunting obstacles, from the opposition of local leaders to resource constraints and bad roads.

With leaders and health experts gathering from around the world in Geneva for the 66th World Health Assembly, the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health (GLC) celebrates countries that are surmounting barriers to access to these vital services.

GLC Chair Joy Phumaphi will present the 2013 Resolve Award to representatives of three countries—the Gambia, Kenya, and Zambia, with a special mention given to Sierra Leone—for demonstrating leadership and political will.  But the individuals transforming lives on the ground may not be who you’d expect.

Meet Reverend George Buannie.  He’s the Executive Director of the Fambul Initiative Network for Equality (FINE) in Sierra Leone. What’s Buannie’s innovation? “Husband schools” that teach men to respect women’s rights and health. The villages where FINE volunteers work have seen a 60 percent decrease in rape and gender-based violence, and maternal mortality has declined by more than 60 percent. There has been a 75 percent increase in hospital births, and contraceptive use has soared from 30 to 51 percent.

In the Gambia, the game-changing intervention was a practical one: reliable transportation.  As in many developing countries, The Gambia’s unpaved roads and an aging fleet of vehicles kept healthcare workers from visiting rural communities. This posed significant challenges for reproductive health: regular antenatal checkups and swift access to obstetric care can mean the difference between life and death for women and their infants.

To solve the problem, the Ministry of Health leveraged public and private funding to purchase a new fleet of ambulances and all-terrain vehicles, then outsourced their maintenance and operations to Riders for Health, a not-for-profit with decades of experience in medical transport.

Majai Ceesay owes her life to the program. Ceesay lives in Kaikunda, a remote village 120 miles from The Gambian capitol. She nearly died while giving birth to twins in June 2012. But Ceesay was fortunate to receive care from Sheriff Darbo, a community health nurse, who travelled to Kaikanda on a motorcycle from Riders for Health.  “I can honestly say that without Sheriff, I and my second twin wouldn’t be alive,” says Ceesay.

In Zambia, reproductive health suffered from years of “structural adjustment” programs that decimated the country’s health and social service sectors. A decade ago, Zambia’s had some of the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS and maternal and child mortality. But in recent years, the Zambian government has redoubled its commitment to primary and reproductive health, increasing spending in those areas by 50%. And Zambia is pioneering integrated service provision: family planning and maternal and child health services are offered together, free of charge. “People do not want to go to separate facilities for family planning and for child health,” said Dr. Joseph Kasonde, Zambia’s Minister of Health. “We are working to meet all of their health needs in one place.”

Sometimes the obstacles to reproductive health are political, rather than practical. The solution? Build broad-based support. That is how Kenya’s National Council for Population Development won approval of a comprehensive Population Policy for National Development, which places family planning at the center of Kenya’s development agenda. The NCPD spent three years engaging with civil society members, churches, government officials and other stakeholders to develop a visionary new policy, created by and for the Kenyan people. 

 “The Resolve Award winners show us that, even in the most challenging environments, progress can be made,” said Peggy Clark, Executive Director of Aspen Global Health and Development and Vice President of Policy Programs at the Aspen Institute. “With ingenuity and commitment, these leaders are pushing the frontiers of reproductive health.”

While the Resolve Award showcases remarkable achievements, there is much work to be done.  Please join the GLC in congratulating not only the Award winners, but all leaders maintaining their utmost resolve to achieve universal access to family planning and reproductive health services. 

Learn more about each of the Resolve Award winners by joining the webcast on May 22 at to watch the ceremony and participate via Twitter by following @GLCRHresolve and #ResolveAward.

About The Aspen Institute

The Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, established by The Aspen Institute in 2010, is composed of eighteen sitting and former heads of state, high-level policymakers and other leaders who build political leadership for increased financial and technical support for reproductive health. The Council works to revitalize political commitments to reproductive health by increasing awareness of reproductive health issues, supporting the effective use of donor resources, and championing policies dedicated to achieving universal access to reproductive health. 

Aspen Global Health and Development (GHD)  helps to build innovative strategies for global health and poverty alleviation by bringing leaders together to share and advance innovative solutions and by strengthening the capacity of developing world leaders to champion these ideas. Learn more at

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit