By Marian Starkey
Greetings from Marrakech! I am here for the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) conference, which happens in a different location every four years. This is the first time that the conference has been held in an African and/or Arab nation, and King Mohammed VI has been a very gracious host so far. He even invited the participants to a special dinner on Tuesday evening. Of course, there are 2,300 of us, so I'm guessing it won't be an intimate affair with lots of photo ops one-on-one.
The conference started today with side meetings, rather than typical research presentations. My first session was a follow-up to the research conference I attended in Ghana last September. It was fun seeing friends that I made a year ago and hearing about the success many of them have had in getting their papers published. There was also a request for more research in the future that could be translated into policy, which I was happy to hear.
The next session I attended featured our expert Board member, Duff Gillespie, as a panelist. The topic was training a new generation of reproductive health specialists and how to do that most effectively. Duff told the story of his own career (I learned that he actually trained in criminology before becoming a USAID career professional!). He criticized donors for neglecting population studies and identified this as the core reason why the field of demography is not sustainable. He called for a renewed interest in population studies by private donors and governments in order to keep the field alive.
The day ended with the official opening ceremony. We heard from IUSSP president, John Cleland; UNFPA director Thoraya Obaid; and several other panelists (who spoke in Arabic so I could not understand their addresses, unfortunately). Berber percussionists rounded out the evening with their energizing chanting, dancing, and drumming.
I got my information table set up this morning and by the end of the day all of the tote bags and pens that I brought were gone! Hopefully now that the "fun" freebies are gone, people will feel compelled to pick up a copy of The Reporter or some of our educational materials.
More tomorrow, after I visit a local reproductive health clinic...