Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
The government has suspended family planning advertisements in local media, a move that is likely to fuel debate on the future of family planning activities in the country.
The ministry of health is understood to have written to concerned organisations directing them to pulldown the advertisements.
They include US-based organisation, FHI 360, whose letter revealing the move was widely shared on social media. The letter directed the organisation to stop henceforth, the airing of radio and television spots on family planning until further notice.
The ministry’s permanent secretary (PS) Dr Mpoki Ulisubisya wrote to FHI’s Chief of Party, regarding the USAID’s ‘Tulonge Afya’ project, asking the organisation to immediately stop the adverts as the ministry intended to revise them.
“The ministry intends to revise the contents of all your ongoing Radio and TV spots for family planning, thus I request you to stop with immediate effect airing and publishing any family planning contents in any media channels until further notice,” reads part of Dr Ulisubisya’s letter to the organisation dated September 19, 2018. A credible source at the ministry confirmed that the letter was indeed authentic.
FHI’s ‘Tulonge Afya’ targets households and communities in Tanzania, especially women and youth aged between 15 and 24. FHI management was not immediately available to comment on the matter by press time.
The ministry’s decision has come amid a debate on which direction the government wanted to take over family planning after President John Magufuli publicly voiced his opposition to birth control among citizens.
The move, also coming a few days after the PS gave assurance that the government would stick to its policy, is likely to give ammunition to western media which have already used President Magufuli’s remarks to question the government’s policy stance, with UK’s Mail on Sunday campaigning for withdrawal of funding to Tanzania.
While it is not immediately clear what kind of content the government wanted censored from the adverts, the freezing may send mixed signals to donors who are the largest funders of family planning initiatives in Tanzania.
However, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which commits a significant amount of money to family planning in Tanzania, said the UK’s approach to FP was aligned with Tanzania’s national policy and it (DFID) remained in regular dialogue with the relevant ministries on the matter.
Ahead of the government’s latest move on adverts cancellation, DFID exclusively told The Citizen that the UK still believed in empowering Tanzanian women and children so that they could make better health choices.
“By giving young women choice over when they have children, we’re helping them make better, safer health choices, and allowing them to make the most of their education and opportunities so that they can contribute to the growth of their societies and communities,’’ said the DFID spokesperson in an email response. The Citizen sought to find out about DFID’s commitment to supporting family planning amid the controversy around birth control which re-emerged when Dr Magufuli referred to those on family planning as “lazy.”