IN MEMORIAM – Prof Fred Sai – global champion, pioneer and leader

Prof Fred Sai died on 17 September 2019 at the age of 95. He had a career spanning over 50 years. Born in 1924 near Accra, Ghana, he spent most of his early life with his mother and her female relatives. Growing up, he said, he saw “what women were going through, having children, being pregnant, going to the hospital and coming back without a child, sometimes not coming back themselves.”

In 1947, he travelled to England to study medicine at the University of London, where he witnessed the case of a girl who committed suicide because she was pregnant and couldn’t face it. Another tried but she was saved. When he returned to Ghana as a doctor, one of his first jobs was assisting with autopsies, including many on young women who had died as a result of unsafe abortions, which he described as “heart-rending”. He believed that any young girl or woman who wants an abortion should be allowed to have one in a safe medical environment.

He was best known as a passionate advocate for family planning and maternal health. He served in several positions in theGhana Health Servicesand was a professor of Preventive and Social Medicine at theUniversity of Ghana Medical School. He was Director of Medical Services and Professor ofCommunity Healthat theUniversity of Ghana,Legon, and served as an advisor to the Government of Ghana on Reproductive Health, and HIV/AIDS. He co-founded thePlanned Parenthood Association of Ghanain 1967 and was the first African President of theInternational Planned Parenthood Federationfrom 1989 to 1995. He was also the President and Honorary Secretary of theGhana Academy of Arts and Sciences.He became the first Head of the National Population Council, and was instrumental in setting up the IPPF Africa Regional Office as well as theCentre for African Family Studies in Nairobi.He chaired the UN conferences on Population and Development in 1984 and 1994. He was a Nutrition Advisor to theFood and Agriculture Organisation, Africa Region as well as the coordinator of the World Hunger Programme of theUnited Nations Universityand a Senior Population Advisor to theWorld Bank. He received a number of awards, including the United Nations Population Award in 1993 and an honorary doctorate and fellowship

In 2012, the Lancet called him the godfather of family planning. At the age of88, only semi-retired, he sat on the boards of Women Deliver and Population Action International.

The Fred Sai Institute was established in 2014 in Nairobi by the IPPF Africa Region in his honour, as a “pioneer public health research institute, championing research on population, sexual and reproductive health to generate evidence on effective health strategies aimed at improving the health of the population in sub-Saharan Africa”. The Institute was re-launched in Accra in July 2018 by IPPF Africa Region and the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana, so that he could participate.

SOURCES: Skoll, 2019 ; Lancet, by D Holmes, 2012 ; IPPF Africa Region Blog, by Archibald Adams, 1 August 2018 ; Photo