Family Planning Bush Style


April 18, 2006


Browse in Philippines

Perhaps you had the impression that the Bush Administration was opposed to family planning in the Third World because of moral scruples regarding contraception and the like. Give people condoms and next thing you know, they might……well, actually do it. It turns out however that the scruples have been more over the lack of opportunities for corporations in the planning pot.

That’s the message that comes through in a recent employment ad in the Philippines Inquirier, which is one of the national dailies here. The ad was sponsored jointly by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and something called Private Sector Mobilization for Family Planning, or PRISM as some PR firm has anacronymed it The ad is for an information techie and the job description itself is not of much interest. What is of interest is the nature of PRISM and the way this organization defines its goals.

PRISM calls itself a “consortium” led by Chemonics International, a private consulting firm that, according to its web site, as a bias for “market-based” solutions. That’s pretty apparent from the description of the project itself. Here’s the list of aims:

  1. Increased workplace support for FP (family planning) services and referrals.
  2. Establishment of viable, mass market brands of hormonal contraceptives.
  3. Increased business value of FP among private practice providers.

Please ponder those for a minute or two. I think you will find it something of a psychographic of the privatizing mind. The first seems innocuous, but consider. Probably the majority of Filipinos do not have a “workplace”, unless you count the rice or sugar field or the home, which I don’t think are what Chemonics has in mind. They seem to be thinking of a distribution system based on urban market structures, corporations in particular. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess, except that the families with ten kids are more likely to be found in the rural areas, not in the cities.

Number two is almost chilling in its candor. The goal is not to make contraceptives widely available to those who need them most. It is to develop mass market brands for contraceptives. That is looking at the problem from the standpoint of the corporation, not from the standpoint of those who desperately need this help. The average income in the Philippines is something like $750.00 a year. That figure is a bit misleading because a lot of daily sustenance comes from outside the monetized economy, in the form of household gardens, chickens, banana trees and the like Still, there’s not a lot of room there for more branded products, even mass market ones.

Number three apparently means finding more ways for doctors to make money off of family planning. I have the highest regard for Filipino doctors, and nurses too. I would like very much for them to be able to make more money in their own country, nurses in particular. (I will be writing more about this shortly.) But should that really be a goal of a family planning initiative?

There is a common belief that the main impediment to family planning in the Philippines is the Catholic Church. The Church doesn’t help; but my own experience here suggests that Filipino women listen to the priests about as much as their American counterparts do on this point. (Abortion is a different matter.) Machismo is a problem too. Still, a lot more people would use condoms if they just had access to them. Access has to be the first goal. But markets work on the basis of scarcity not abundance. Corporations do not make money on that which is available to all.

The tagline on the USAID logo on the employment ad in the Philippine Inquirer is FROM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE. They could at least have the courtesy to ask us before they say that.