Update: More on USAID’s Demand that African Governments Halt Contraceptive Supply to Marie Stopes

Emily Douglas

USAID insists that the contraceptives it supplies to African governments sit in warehouses rather than be distributed to Marie Stopes International, the international family planning provider.

Yesterday, Rewire reported that USAID has ordered six African nations — Ghana, Malawi,
Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda
and Zimbabwe — to halt the supply of USAID-provided contraceptive supplies to Marie Stopes International (MSI), the international family planning and reproductive health care provider.

USAID claims that MSI, by virtue of working with UNFPA in China, runs afoul of the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which bars US funding for organizations that engage in coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization. MSI maintains that they neither fund nor participate in either, and that their work with China focuses on promoting alternative, non-coercive family planning practices.

I spoke today with Samantha Guy, deputy director of MSI, for more information on the impact of this edict, and whether it’s likely to be dropped when a new administration takes office.

In many countries, including in the six targeted now, MSI functions as an integral part of the national health care system, working alongside and augmenting the health care services the government is able to provide. MSI’s operational reach and expertise allow the organization "to reach people other organizations can’t," Guy explains. "We choose to go to underserved areas in which there is no other agency." USAID supplies will sit in government warehouses, unable to be distributed to MSI clinics — the very clinics that serve as a relied-upon component of the national health system.

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"This action undermines the decision making processes of sovereign
governments, who distribute donated resources in a way that they’ve
determined best meets the needs of their citizens," said Center for Health and Gender Equity
executive director Serra Sippel in a statement.

Population Action International’s Craig Lasher explains that because
the administration’s justification for blocking the supplies to MSI is
the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, rather than the global gag rule, a new
presidential administration’s legal team would have to develop an
alternative interpretation of the amendment that allows the supplies to be delivered — further delaying a lifting of the ban.

Regardless of how long it takes for the ban to be addressed, one thing is clear, says Guy: "Our partners are going to run out of commodities in two to three months."

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