(November 2013) The second international Population, Health, and Environment Conference, organized by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) and the PHE Ethiopia Consortium, convened over two days in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, around the theme “Healthy Families, Healthy Environments.”

Population, health, and environment (PHE) initiatives use integrated approaches to improve access to health services, especially family planning and reproductive health, while helping communities to improve livelihoods, manage natural resources, and conserve the critical ecosystems on which they depend.

The PHE Conference, funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health, and USAID’s East Africa Regional Office, brought together over 150 PHE implementers and advocates representing 20 different countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, and North America.

The conference convened the PHE community to share experiences, coordinate efforts, and develop strategies to extend the integrated approach to new rural and remote communities.

A Space to Share, Learn, and Network

After receiving more than 120 abstracts, 32 were selected for presentation as part of eight moderated presentation panels, including: "Dispatches From the Field," "Conservation and Health," "Innovative Partnerships," "Gender and PHE," "Advocacy and PHE Support," "Family Planning and PHE Results," and "Monitoring and Evaluation of PHE Programs."

Donors, policymakers, journalists, and potential partners had the chance to learn about recent accomplishments and pressing issues during roundtable discussions, plenary sessions, and an evening reception.

The energy among participants was compelling: Many participants voiced their gratitude for the opportunity to connect with other organizations and agencies, discuss activities and plans, and harness momentum to expand their country-level networks.

Moving Forward: Needs and Priorities Identified

Roundtable discussions were a chance to discuss experiences, questions, and challenges in a less-formal setting. These themed discussions included: "Best Practices in Implementation," "Monitoring and Evaluation," "Expanding and Institutionalizing PHE Interventions," and "Advocacy and Communications/Networks."

Roundtable discussions were constructive outlets for participants to learn from one another. Among the many needs and priorities identified were improvements in monitoring and evaluation, and communicating results with data to increase donor and policymaker support; coordinated and strengthened advocacy efforts, including the role of networks; identifying and institutionalizing best practices in delivering integrated components of projects and programs; and better documentation of existing scale-up efforts to target areas for future expansion of PHE approaches.

Shining a Spotlight on PHE Integration

The conference aimed to inform new audiences of the PHE approach. PHE integration featured prominently in the media throughout the week, culminating at the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). The opening of the PHE conference featured for two consecutive days on the front page of The Ethiopian Herald, an English language newspaper, and was thus seen by many attendees at the much larger ICFP. His Excellency, Belete Tafere, Minister of Environment and Forestry of Ethiopia, delivered the opening message, and discussed the expansion of integrated PHE efforts in his country. He noted that many accomplishments of PHE programs and projects, including greater empowerment for girls and women, and improved reproductive health, have contributed to progress toward Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan.

Jason Bremner (PRB), Julia Henn (USAID's East Africa Regional Office), and Lester Coutinho (David and Lucille Packard Foundation) spoke during the opening, with comments supporting the potential for PHE approaches, and the importance of program planning through a gendered lens. The opening served as the launch for the PHE ENGAGE multimedia presentation, showcasing results from successful PHE projects around the world. The presentation can be used by stakeholders to explain the benefits of the integrated PHE approach.

Remarks in the final plenary were delivered by Roger-Mark De Souza (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), who reflected on progress since the last conference in 2007. Finally, Dr. Canisius Kanangire, executive secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), closed the conference and reported on the growing role that African institutions like LVBC will be taking in scaling up the PHE approach.

PHE projects and programs stood out at the ICFP: at least two side events, two round tables, five poster presentations, and six panels with PHE presence took place during the three-day conference. These events reached a much broader audience than the traditional PHE community, including family planning advocates and programmers, journalists, donors, and researchers.

At the close of the ICFP in the Africa Union main hall, a prestigious EXCELL award was given to Blue Ventures, a conservation organization that has been implementing PHE since 2006. The award recognized Blue Ventures for their innovative work in addressing unmet need for family planning in remote western Madagascar. The recognition of PHE as a valid approach for reaching the hardest-to-reach shone a spotlight on Blue Ventures and the PHE community as an exciting end to a fruitful week.

PRB organized the first PHE conference in 2007. PRB provides technical support on communications and policy to organizations implementing PHE throughout Africa. Since 2007, the PHE Ethiopia Consortium has grown to a network of more than 50 organizations that are working on population, health, and environment in the country.