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Dean MacKenzie’s Reflections on #ICFP2018 in Kigali, Rwanda


KIGALI—Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie left the fifth International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda earlier this month invigorated with optimism that public health has the power to advance family planning goals.

“There was a hopeful feel to it,” MacKenzie said. “There are a lot of challenges, but I came away thinking there’s a future here—with so much enthusiasm, and commitment from the ministers, the faith community, the funders, and of course the youth.”

The conference marks the fifth gathering of the family planning community dedicated to make progress toward an ambitious goal: to bring 120 million new women and girls access to modern family planning by 2020. More women and girls than ever—317 million in the world's 69 poorest countries as of July 2018—have access to modern contraceptives, according to a progress report released during the conference.

In a week packed with informative sessions and high-level meetings—including Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame, Prime Minister Édouard Ngirente, and Minister of Health Diane Gashumba—MacKenzie set the foundation for future family planning and public health partnerships.

As Dean of the Bloomberg School—which includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, cohost of the conference with the Rwanda Ministry of Health—MacKenzie gave opening and closing ceremony remarks to the conference, which gathered more than 3,800 officials, researchers, and advocates from around the world—including nearly 100 members of the Bloomberg School and alumni community.

Dean Makenzie in Rwanda image

Rwanda’s values resonate with family planning goals, MacKenzie said in her opening remarks. Image courtesy of the Government of Rwanda/Ministry of Health.

As the conference came to a close on November 15, Dean MacKenzie shared some of her key takeaways:

  • A well-told story can change minds: The conference brought home the power of storytelling.
  • It’s time to involve boys and men more in family planning decisions and support more open dialogue between boys and girls.
  • Keep an eye out for game-changing advances—such as a contraceptive implant that dissolves over time and doesn’t have to be removed, pitched by Population Service International’s CEO Karl Hoffman.
  • An investment in primary care is an investment in family planning.
  • Global lessons shared at #ICFP2018 could inform local efforts to improve access—including in the Bloomberg School’s hometown, Baltimore.

MacKenzie also highlighted the conference’s vibrant youth presence, an undercurrent through all the sessions, at the opening ceremony. “Everywhere I look in this conference there are young people … I see you as the next generation of family planning and reproductive health leaders. You are showing us that you know what it takes to carry this community to 2030 and well beyond,” She said.

Youth also informed Dean MacKenzie’s answer to the conference’s call to identify her family planning superpower: “My superpower—or I should say our superpower, at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is educating and preparing the next generation of leaders in public health.”

Dean Makenzie in Rwanda image

MacKenzie confers with Jordan’s Princess Sarah Zeid at ICFP.  Image courtesy of the Government of Rwanda/Ministry of Health.