If we have reached the status of middle income country, it is thanks to the efforts of those who made a success of family planning
On the occasion of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association, it is important to remind ourselves of some of the historical aspects which led to its setting up and pay homage to the pioneers who overcame resistance and religious prejudice so as to tackle the problem of overpopulation that the country was facing acutely in the 1950s.
The success in malaria control along with better methods of treating disease allied with natural population growth had resulted in a relatively rapid increase in population of 3%. This sent alarm bells to the authorities which commissioned a committee in 1953 presided by Mr Herchenroder to make an analysis of the situation and submit a report with recommendations. The report came after two years, but the recommendations were not implemented because of resistance from various quarters to the idea of family planning.
However, in 1957 a group of concerned volunteers and intellectuals decided to take up the challenge. Under the leadership of Mr Rajcurrun T Naik and advised by an American researcher in Mauritius, Dr Benedict, the group consisting of Drs Mansoor and Singer, Messrs L. Permalloo, Amode Beebeejaun and Chatargoon Madhow – the latter being the only surviving founder-member — set up the Mauritius Family Planning Association on October 2, 1957 at Piton village. The MFPA was officially registered in February 1958, with Dr Leckraj Teelock as President and Mr RT Naik as Secretary, with 10 members from the branches being co-opted in the central committee.
On May 10, 1958 the first clinic was inaugurated in Piton by Mrs L Permalloo in the presence of the Minister of Health Guy Forget, and Vopar Foaming was the first contraceptive method offered.
Given the urgency of the situation, population control was already being debated in the Legislative Council, and being ventilated in the press and through public talks. Since its foundation in 1954, Mauritius Times began to canvass the issue, despite criticisms that came from sister publications.
Several Members of the Legislative Council took part in the debates, those for being Hon Teelock, Dupre, Ramlallah and Napal. In April 1960, Mr Wilson in the budget speech announced, to the delight of the protagonists, some important measures such as family benefits, marriage and maternity benefits, and widows and orphans benefits.
As was to be expected, these measures were opposed very strongly in the Council as well as by the Catholic Church, so much so that the Colonial Secretary decided to await the report of the Titmuss and Meade Committee, which was tabled in Council in 1961. Nevertheless, the MFPA continued its field programmes with courage and determination, actively supported by Drs Teelock, Mansoor, Singer and Cassimally, and Messrs Brouard and G. Ramgoolam.
In January 1960 the MFPA changed its name to the more acceptable Mauritius Family Welfare Association so as to obtain assistance from the Mauritius Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund. Subsequently the government put at its disposal a plot of land at Bell Village for the construction of a clinic and administrative centre, where the central committee relocated from Piton in 1963.
In 1962 Government adopted the Titmuss Report, and set up medical and social committee to implement projects. In 1963 the Action Familiale was founded by Dr A. de Chazal with the support of the Catholic Church, Bishop Margeot and Drs Guy. A consensus was found so as to go forward with the project of Family Planning, and Government gave financial support as well as the authorization to these two associations to seek funding from the appropriate international bodies such as the International Planned Parenthood Association. Full-fledged campaigns were launched across the country and several branches opened. In March 1965 the association reverted to its initial name of MFPA, with strengthening of the administrative structure and appointment of Mr RT Naik as General Secretary Manager.
The dedication and militancy of these pioneers led to the spectacular success of family planning and population control in Mauritius, so that the spectre of Mauritius becoming a basket case as projected by Titmuss and Meade was averted. In fact Mauritius was hailed on the African continent as a model to be emulated in matters of family planning and population control. From these hard beginnings the MFPWA has today upgraded to offer a range of services that extend beyond population control to maternal welfare, sexual and adolescent health, counseling, etc.
If we have reached the status of middle income country today, it is in no small measure thanks to the efforts of those who dared to take up the challenge and make a success of family planning. The contribution of the pioneers should not be forgotten; homage should be paid to them. Furthermore, we are given to understand that the MFPA, which is being run by a government-appointed Caretaker Committee since some years now, should revert back to a proper management committee as prescribed in its constitution.
* Published in print edition on 27 October 2017