Q&A with Faustina Fynn-Nyame: An Unwavering Champion for Women’s Health

By Sandy Garcon, Communications Manager, PSI

Faustina Fynn-Nyame recently joined PSI as the director of the Women’s Health Project (WHP). Founder of Marie Stopes Ghana, former country director of Marie Stopes Kenya and former board member of Marie Stopes International, Faustina is passionately committed to the reduction of maternal mortality and morbidity. She has demonstrated this drive through a career-long focus on women’s reproductive health and rights.

Tell us about your background and what makes you so passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls.

I grew up in the United Kingdom, but often traveled to Ghana to visit family. Witnessing the inequalities and consequences of poor healthcare systems on individuals, their families and communities had a profound impact on me. Years later, as a fertility nurse specialist in London, I came across a young woman – a fellow Ghanaian – whose reproductive organs had been removed without her knowledge or consent. This was done to mitigate the damages from an unsafe abortion procedure she underwent as a teen in Ghana. I had to inform her that her dreams of having biological children could never become a reality. Her whole life changed because of one mistake she made out of ignorance and lack of access to services that in the West were so readily available, so cheap, and even free in the UK. To see the devastation this caused her set me on this journey to empower women to make decisions that are right for their own lives.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?

When I lived and worked in Ghana, as a Western-minded person – although I am Ghanaian – I went there thinking I had the solutions and understood what the people needed. I thought that they would naturally embrace what I believed to be the right approaches. This is one of the fundamental mistakes that we make in many organizations that are trying to do good work. We just need to observe what the consumer is doing. If we took more time to really study our consumers and ask the right questions, we would know where to place essential products and services and how to support women in gaining access in a way that would transform health impact in many countries. I gravitated towards PSI because it has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding consumer insights and how that can lead to better health outcomes and better programming.

Also, funding for reproductive health needs to be far beyond the usual three-year cycles, especially in a country that’s trying to transform itself. Where I’ve seen the biggest impact is when funding is long term, sustainable and focused in one particular area.

You joined PSI at a particularly uncertain time for global reproductive health. What are some of the challenges you anticipate and/or already face?

We’re in danger of seeing more governments not complying with international health treaties and commitments – like the Maputo Protocol – particularly when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Because of economic agreements with the United States, a number of countries are rethinking their positions on these treaties, as their funding may otherwise be cut from other areas where they think it’s essential. These governments are put in the difficult position of having to make decisions based on economic survival rather than women’s rights.

There is also the potential for division within the reproductive health community. I witnessed this first hand with President George W. Bush’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy. We saw the great work that was being done and the agendas that were being pushed collaboratively were all dropped as everyone started working in siloes. Some organizations weren’t invited to key meetings where they could have made much-needed contributions. This work is far too big for only a few of us to do. It’s all of our responsibility to carry the mantle. That becomes very difficult when we can’t even talk to each other, and work together, and partner with each other.

Ultimately, these different challenges will lead to a decrease in the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR), while increasing fertility rates and unsafe abortion in regions like sub-Saharan Africa. All of which will undoubtedly slow the progress in the achievement of FP2020 goals.

What are the overall implications for women and girls from the Global Gag Rule? What has no one mentioned yet?

There is no denying that the Global Gag Rule will only lead to more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, and more maternal and newborn deaths. It could also contribute to a lack of trust in family planning methods. Reproductive health organizations and health care providers will have to make a choice on which part of the womb they can now work on. Cuts to UNFPA budget will limit choice and access to family planning methods in many countries. When women are put in a position where they’re not given the full picture, they are less likely to trust these options, and will try to find frequently unsafe alternative methods.

What’s the good news?

There is a growing push towards building sustainable systems that rely less on donors. PSI global strategy will lead thought in this area. Approaches like social marketing allow us to reduce reliance on donor funding and diversify and expand program activities using revenue generated through product sales.

It’s also reassuring to see governments increasingly taking more responsibility for commodities supply. The Kenyan government has increased its contraceptive budget, and Mali has contributed technical and human resources to family planning. Countries like Ghana and Vietnam have made contraceptives available through their national health insurance systems. Things are moving in the right direction, but still must be pushed in many countries. Finally, we’re witnessing more and more innovative tools and solutions making family planning and reproductive health interventions more effective and bringing products and services closer to the consumer. Ultimately, this will improve the health and future well-being of women and their families.

Banner photo: © Population Services International / Banner Photo by: Olivier Girard