On this historic World Population Day — the first with the world’s population at seven billion and growing — we call your attention to a crucial summit in London happening today, and to the ongoing importance of supporting access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health.
The London Summit
Over one hundred high-level decision-makers are convening at The London Summit on Family Planning in hopes of securing a better future for women and girls globally. Hosted by the UK government and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with UNFPA and others, the summit seeks to provide an additional 120 million women in resource-poor countries with lifesaving contraceptives, information and family planning services by 2020.
Why family planning?
Family planning saves women’s and children’s lives and improves economic and health conditions of families, like Apegnon Akpene and her family.
Akpene, a 20-year old West African woman, became pregnant at age 16, and was forced to drop out of school. After giving birth to three children in four years, she attended a community health worker training through USAID‘s Action for West Africa Region II (AWARE II), led by MSH. She experienced the benefits of family planning herself, became a community health worker, and now promotes family planning to others. “I got the skills needed to save lives, my own first,” she said.
Current contraceptive use could prevent 218 million unintended pregnancies, 25 million miscarriages, and 118,000 maternal deaths in 2012, according to a report released last month by Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA. The authors noted that providing safe access to modern family planning methods to all women in developing countries who currently have an unmet need would prevent an additional: 54 million unintended pregnancies, including 21 million unplanned births; 26 million abortions (of which 16 million would be unsafe); 7 million miscarriages; 79,000 maternal deaths; and 1.1 million infant deaths.
Family planning is a “triple win” health intervention: it helps reduce maternal mortality, prevent child deaths, and greatly contributes to an AIDS-free generation.
Rights, Choice, Equity
In a letter to David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Melinda Gates, Co-chair and Trustee of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MSH and partner organizations urged them to ensure that the London Summit on Family Planning emphasize three things: rights, choice, and equity.
Women and girls have a right to health. Family planning and all aspects of sexual and reproductive health are human rights issues. MSH promotes universal access to and elimination of barriers for reproductive health at all levels, promotes individuals’ ability to make informed choices and voluntary decisions, and safeguards and supports women to exercise their reproductive rights.
Family planning methods are not one size fits all. MSH promotes individuals’ right to choose among a wide variety of contraceptive methods, and a full range of reproductive health services, and to use the method that best supports their individual needs. Access to contraceptives alone is not enough.
Voluntary family planning and reproductive health should be available to people in the most remote areas. MSH reaches out to populations facing the greatest barriers to accessing care — including the poor, rural communities, minorities, migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, people living with HIV/AIDS, the disabled, and young people — ensuring that they have access to integrated, comprehensive, high-quality services. Programs must promote geographic and financial equity, and specifically ensure that women in rural areas and poor women can access family planning.
Supporting Family Planning and Reproductive Health
We have helped lead the repositioning of voluntary family planning as an essential health and development intervention during times when many governments and donors neglected these crucial services. We’ve also been promoting evidence-informed best practices, including healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, in global reproductive health policy.
We promote healthy families by making health systems stronger for family planning and reproductive health — fostering best practices in leadership and governance, increasing access to services, developing effective systems for managing contraceptives, building providers’ capabilities and skills, and utilizing an integrated approach to establishing strong, sustainable programs.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, integration of family planning/reproductive health into primary health care, coupled with a focus on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, dramatically increased contraceptive use. In less than two years, 14 percent of eligible women became new users of family planning.
We thank our partners — including UK AID (DFID), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, World Bank, WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, and the Hewlett Foundation — who have collaborated with MSH and local and regional organizations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
There is no controversy: family planning saves lives.
Let’s celebrate the lives that, together, we have helped save, and the stories of thousands of women and families. And let’s make a pledge to continue our journey … there is still much to do!
Fabio Castaño, MD, MPH, is MSH’s global technical lead, family planning/reproductive health. Follow Fabio on Twitter at @fcastano11.