The following is an open letter to the BBC regarding a recent episode of Sunday Morning Live . Its author is Dr Robert Walley, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Executive Director of MaterCare International.
On July 13th I was invited to attend via Skype a debate on the BBC Sunday Morning Live show for July 15th. The debate question was, "Should we promote contraception in the developing world?" I decided to leave my thoughts about the "debate" to marinate before commenting. I am happy that I was not in fact a participant in the debate.
Though the programme was billed as a debate it was nothing of the kind as it was more, as I have learned to expect, of a diatribe against the Catholic Church. This type of debate is more akin to tabloid journalism and was nothing like the debates I have watched on the BBC World Service.
The subjects of maternal mortality and morbidity are the main tragedies facing the mothers of our day, and let me remind the BBC that mothers are women too and that what needs to be done should be given serious thought and discussion not the one-sided views of the presenter of the programme and Jennie Bond that verged on the ignorant and juvenile.
While I watched the proceedings, I realised that Ms Bond's face was familiar and then I remembered that before we left the UK, over 30 years ago she was the outside presenter of Royal events. I began to wonder why she was included in the debate. Has she obtained new qualifications and experience on contraception and the suffering and needs of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa?
Unfortunately, her comment about "women not being controlled by old celibate men" ended the "debate", accompanied by the comments and giggles between the presenter and Ms Bond that natural family [planning] did not work and was simply "Vatican roulette". This erroneous comment was insulting to those Catholics invited to speak and I'm sure to those who might have been watching.
It was clear that both these women did not feel bound by the instructions I was given prior to the programme, concerning the etiquette of debate, and that I should not make any insulting remarks. Those comments finally destroyed any credibility of the debate and of the producers of the programme. The only saving grace for the sad proceedings came from Dr Ideh from Nigeria, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who knew what she was talking about.
I have been working on projects in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Kenya, East Timor, Albania (during the Kosovo crises), and Haiti (immediately following the devastating earthquake of two years ago). The previous attempts to impose reproductive health (by means of abortion and contraception) was a coercion of women in sub-Saharan Africa and failed for many reasons cultural, economic, religious, geographic, but most of all because Africans favour children, as they see them to be the best insurance on the future of their families, villages, clans and therefore countries.
This so-called "reproductive health" was also a source of corruption, as those involved in implementation of the birth control programme of the 70s and 80s travelled first class, stayed in top hotels, drove around in air-conditioned 4 x 4s and were paid large per diems. I recall visiting a "rural population clinic" where there sat a hired nurse on a rickety chair at an old table. On the wall hung only one lonely poster about the use of condoms. She had no transport. She sat in that office day by day and did nothing. This was the product of funding "reproductive health".
By contrast, I can say the best form of family planning is to reduce maternal and perinatal deaths and to do this requires essential obstetrics. Ninety-one percent of maternal deaths can be prevented by proper prenatal, intrapartum and postpartum care. However that is not the Gates agenda which smacks of population control. There is every chance that the Gates and DFID initiative will fail too, as will reaching the objective of the 5th Millennium Development Goal (to reduce maternal mortality by 75% by 2015).
Bill and Melinda Gates should have been challenged to fund programmes providing pre and post natal care, safe clean delivery facilities, trained health professionals at every birth, transport, etc.
African women will soon realise that they have a special right, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights No 25, to health care, not to be denied by the super rich. Many of the rural women I meet are disgusted by the attitude of the West and its self-inflicted genocide, and this should have been discussed during the "debate" on BBC's Sunday Morning Live.
One last thought, the Catholic Church is one of the largest providers of health care, e.g., in Kenya it has 40 hospitals mostly outside of the big cities and thus provides 40% of the available hospital beds. In 2005 I was asked by an Italian missionary bishop for advice on what to do to improve maternal health in his rural diocese of Kenya. We carefully looked at what was needed and agreed to help and from that began project Isiolo.
Three months later, after having spent 44 years serving all of the people (Christian, Muslim, animist) and nine years as bishop he was murdered outside of his house by Christians, including one of his own priests. He was mourned by the entire community. This is one of the heroes that do not fit Ms Bond's offensive caricature and erroneous narrative of the Catholic Church. Perhaps Melinda Gates and Ms Bond would like to come and see first hand the suffering of mothers where I am working - it might change their lives.