Welcome to the Eighth Annual PopPov Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development
January 29th, 2014 | Posted in Income/Poverty
by Veronique Filippi, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Welcome to the Eighth PopPov Conference. It is now time to start. My name is Veronique Filippi and I have had the great privilege of being chair of the scientific program committee for the organization of this conference, allowing me to peek behind the scenes and understand why PopPov conferences never fail to deliver, in my experience. I can see many familiar faces today—researchers met mostly at earlier PopPov conferences—and they would not be here in Nairobi if they did not agree with me.
As mentioned yesterday evening, the objective of the conference is to bring together researchers from a range of disciplines, mostly demography and economics; but also anthropology, public health, and epidemiology; who work on the intersections between population dynamics, reproductive health, and economic development.
The eight members of the scientific committee screened around 180 [correction: 130] papers, and selected 18 papers and five posters that were innovative, either because they bring new knowledge to uncharted territories or because they scrutinize a particular issue with new methodological lenses. In putting the program together, some very difficult choices were made, particularly in the “other” category, for which we received many papers.
The papers all focused on an aspect of RMCH [reproductive, maternal, and child health]—in its broadest sense, from descriptive micro-level study of determinants of RH [reproductive health] to understand what makes people tick, to national-level statistical modeling of demographic and economic changes, as well as the evaluation of policy and behavioral interventions aimed at improving RH or reducing inequities. All these different layers of study design and research focus are important for our understanding of the interaction between population, RH, and economic development, and how these might be influenced for greater benefits to all, but most importantly the poorest or most vulnerable in our societies.
The selected papers are organized into six themes: starting later this morning with the economic consequences of poor or good reproductive health; followed by a session on behavioral changes; empowerment and reproductive health; health and nonhealth benefits of family planning; the effects of policies on reproductive health; and demographic transition, population growth, and economic growth. We also have a panel on the demographic dividend and one on tools for bringing research to policymakers. Finally, we have opening and keynote addresses from Alex Ezeh [African Population Health and Research Center] and Jotham Musinguzi [Partners in Population and Development].
This conference is very timely and comes at an exciting or interesting time in terms of global progress and decisionmaking.
First, there has been tremendous progress with MDGs 4, 5, and 6. The number of maternal deaths have halved from 546,000 in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010, with the caveat that we are still falling short of the MDG-5 target and that some countries have had a bumpy ride, particularly where there is conflict and HIV is prevalent. Fertility control has played a key role in this progress, by reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies. Child mortality has also been reduced from 87 deaths per 1,000 to 51 per 1,000.
Second, economic growth in some middle-income countries has been phenomenal and several countries have graduated from low-income countries to middle-income countries. Work conducted by PopPov grantees, including David Canning, has shown that “health improvements can stimulate economic development” (Jamison et al., 2013). But inequities remain, and there are more poor people living in middle-income countries than in the poor countries, as underlined in an article written by Dean Jamison and colleagues for the Lancet Commission for Global Health.
Third, following the perceived success of the MDGs in bringing about positive changes, sustainable development goals are being defined: this is a slow process led by countries, and focuses on many other issues aside from health, including climate change, good governance, peaceful societies, energy, and the environment—because the aim is to reduce extreme poverty. However, women, their health, their education, and the reduction of inequity through universal health coverage and economic growth are at the center of these discussions. These are all themes we are interested in.
In this conference, we will mostly concentrate on numbers at the aggregate level. Before starting the next session, I invite you to remember the human faces beyond the numbers. We all have stories or anecdotes to explain the work we do and the passion we put into it. Mine is the case of a young, uneducated woman we recruited in a PopPov cohort study because of her severe obstetric complication. Thirteen months later, she died in pregnancy, because she could not adequately treat her underlying hypertension, her husband had “nothing else to sell” (to use his own words), and because she did not use a modern method of contraception despite her unmet need and the apparent support of her husband. This story exemplifies several of the themes in this conference, from women’s empowerment and early marriage to the need for appropriate RH intervention and policy responses. And, I am sure you have many more in your mind and maybe to share.
While you are doing this, I now invite Alex Ezeh from APHRC [African Population Health and Research Center], our host institution, to share with us his thoughts in his opening address.