New Support for International Family Planning: The Significance of the London SummitDecember 21, 2012 By Carolyn Lamere
At a major summit in London this summer the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched one of the most significant efforts yet to revitalize commitments around the world towards providing universal access to family planning. More than 220 million women around the world – mostly in developing countries – want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using effective methods of contraception. Meeting the unmet needs of these women could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of mothers and millions of infants, not to mention significantly impact the future of human development. But the last decade has been a period of relative neglect by international donors.
“What happened in the summit in July was that we brought all those technical agencies, politics, the communications, the advocacy, everything together at one moment in time to recognize across the spectrum that this is something that we can solve,” said Julia Bunting, formerly of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), in a short series of interviews about the event.
The London Summit on Family Planning was really “a landmark event for international family planning,” said Scott Radloff, director of the Population and Reproductive Health Office at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The summit’s scale was unprecedented: 26 governments – both donor countries and developing nations – and organizations made financial commitments to increase access to contraception to an additional 120 million women over the next eight years. Some governments, like Ethiopia, concentrated on the needs of unmarried women and adolescent girls; others, like Senegal and Nigeria, focused on the benefits of decreased maternal and child mortality.
Donor countries supported the commitments made by developing countries. Nine countries plus the European Commission pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding, above and beyond existing aid. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged one billion dollars, doubling its current family planning commitment.
“It’s about the power of partnership,” said Bunting. “It’s about everybody having a role to play.” Supporting the commitments made by developing countries is especially important, she said, noting that total commitments actually surpassed the summit goal. “It’s about supporting that in a long-term, sustainable way.”
Giving local leaders access to data about their communities is empowering, said Win Brown of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a co-chair of a monitoring and accountability working group established after the summit, he is working to emphasize transparency. Data should be the “collective force driving these programs, especially in the community, in the district, where choices get made.”
Data allows communities and stakeholders to see the relevant health and development programs that already exist, the problems that remain, and the gaps that need to be addressed. If data is used to encourage “broad stakeholder engagement,” said Brown, “then we’re moving in the right direction.”
In the 1960s, Radloff said there were “fairly high levels of attention, commitment, and resources [for international family planning assistance] that extended for more than two decades into the early 1990s.” Thanks to aid programs during this period, a number of countries in Latin America, Asia, and northern Africa were able to reduce their fertility rates and “graduate” from donor assistance in family planning.
But after the early 1990s, “this period of early attention was followed by a period of about 15 years of neglect and reduced international donor assistance,” he said. Many countries were not able to address their population challenges without outside aid, leading to a “growing disparity” between countries with rapidly growing populations and low contraceptive prevalence rates and those where contraceptives were readily available and growth rates were stagnating or declining.
In the last two to three years, attention to family planning has been growing, said Radloff. Bunting noted that USAID has been the “vanguard” of this movement but other organizations like DFID have also turned their focus to family planning.
This year’s London Summit though, with well-known philanthropists like Melinda Gates and Michael Bloomberg and major governments attending, concentrated attention in a way that may push support to a new level.
Maintaining the Momentum
“The summit was a single point in time. It was a day where the world came together and said, ‘This is something we’re prepared to work on…to make a difference that’s transformational for millions of women in the world’s poorest countries,’” said Bunting.
Participants now have just eight years to deliver on their ambitious goals and commitments.
The first step will be making sure that the “resources that were generated from the donors will be marshaled to help those [developing] countries meet their commitments to expanding access,” said Radloff.
Sources: London Summit on Family Planning, World Bank.
Video Credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center. Photos within the video courtesy of Russell Watkins/DFID.