Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

One Year Later: Improving Lives In Senegal

June 24, 2013

The word “development” clearly refers to a process with a beginning, middle, and end. 

I visit lots of “developing” countries, but unless I return to the same place again and again, it’s hard to see the development process unfold—to understand precisely how the gradual, painstaking work done by thousands of partners makes life better for millions of people. 

That’s why I’m going back to Senegal this week, to see what has changed in the year since my last visit.

Senegal is a great place to see development in action because the country is putting a lot of resources—intellect, leadership, and money—into its family planning program. Senegal’s stated goal is to more than double the percentage of women using modern contraceptives between 2012 and 2015 (from 12 to 27 percent). That’s extremely ambitious, but the government has proved it’s serious by making big investments to reach the goal. 

Here is a partial list of specific reforms that have taken place in Senegal since I was there last July.

  1. Minister of Health Awa Marie Coll-Seck pledged to triple the government budget for contraceptives and to double the overall budget for the family planning program.
  2. Dr. Coll-Seck launched Senegal’s national plan for family planning (including the 27 percent target), which says not only what the government will do but also how much it will cost.
  3. The country has introduced “informed push distribution”—a state-of-the-art way to supply health clinics with contraceptives—to the three most populace regions of the country: Dakar, Thiès, and Kaolack. Eventually, this model will be applied nationally.

I am eager to learn more about the specifics of these new reforms, but mostly I'm curious to find out whether these changes are actually helping people. Are health care workers and women in communities noticing a difference in their daily lives?

My goal when traveling for our foundation work is to connect the sometimes abstract policy details of development to concrete improvements in people’s outlook for the future. 

After all, that is why we do what we do.

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