Following the Summit: Innovative Investments in Family Planning

Amanda PuckettAt the July 11 London Summit on Family Planning, leaders from governments, international agencies, foundations, the private sector, and civil society pledged in excess of four billion dollars over the next eight years to scale up family planning efforts aiming to reach an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s poorest countries. The summit, cohosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government’s Department for International Development, brought together family planning advocates and stakeholders to support women’s and girls’ right to control their own fertility. The money pledged will be invested in the procurement of contraceptive supplies in addition to providing support to remove policy, financing, and service delivery barriers to family planning services.

These financial pledges come at an important time. As the number of women using modern contraceptive methods grows, investments in family planning are needed not only to keep pace with current demand but to also satisfy a high unmet need. A report published in June by the Guttmacher Institute highlights that unmet need for family planning is actually rising in the world’s 69 poorest countries, despite the increased use of modern contraceptive methods in developing countries over the past four years. These countries account for 73% of unmet need in the developing world.

As a family planning advocate, I have optimism that governments and stakeholders will follow through on the pledges made in London. In addition to procuring much needed family planning commodities and addressing policy barriers limiting access to voluntary family planning services, I urge governments and donors to invest in the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, community health workers, supply chain managers, and others who support family planning services. Health workers need comprehensive family planning training, both preservice and in-service, so they are able to provide quality counseling and treatment for family planning services. They need to have easy access to different contraception commodities, a safe and supportive work environment, as well as sufficient facilities to counsel and treat family planning patients.

In addition to “traditional” health workforce investments, I challenge governments and donors to make innovative investments in health workers so they feel truly empowered to offer solutions to family planning challenges in their communities. Supporting health workers to become strong advocates and champions for family planning will help foster change that family planning services bring about, including improved health and welfare of communities and economic growth, among many others. As Pape Gaye, IntraHealth International’s president and CEO, recently blogged, health workers can be change agents in helping their communities come together to address challenges with local solutions, bringing forward the voice and needs of their communities.

I spoke with Gaye, who attended the conference in London, about how health workers can be supported to bring about innovative and effective change to increase family planning services. “It was very uplifting to see a number of countries commit to increased budget and other support to family planning,” he recalled. “I hope a substantial part of those resources will go to frontline health providers including community health workers. These workers are key to taking family planning services to the most remote communities who suffer from the biggest challenges to access. It is a smart investment that will accelerate closing the gap of unmet family planning needs.”

Donors and governments anticipate that the funds pledged at the London Summit will enable an additional 120 million women to have access to family planning, resulting in 200,000 fewer women dying in pregnancy and childbirth, 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, over 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly 3 million fewer babies dying in their first year of life. In order to realize these goals, judicious and innovative investments in health workers are essential.

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Photo by Jennifer Solomon.