AFRICANGLOBE – On the second day of Women Deliver 2013, the largest conference on girls and women of the decade, the backers of population control announced progress and new commitments toward expanding contraceptive access for women in developing countries. They also outlined plans for sustaining this momentum in the years to come.
The day’s events built on commitments and energy generated at the landmark July 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, where mainly Western countries pledged more than US $2.6 billion to provide 120 million more women and girls in the world’s poorest countries with access to contraceptive services, information and supplies by 2020. Speakers at Women Deliver 2013 discussed strategies to reach women and girls in developing countries who do not want to become pregnant, but lack access to contraceptives.
“Putting women at the center of development and delivering solutions that meet their needs will result in huge improvements in health, prosperity and quality of life,” said Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Co-Chair Melinda Gates. “When women have access to contraceptives they’re healthier, their children are healthier, and their families thrive.”
At the morning plenary session–led by Melinda Gates and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director and Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Co-Chair Babatunde Osotimehin–government leaders from Africa and Asia highlighted concrete examples of progress on family planning and reaffirmed commitments to further expanding contraceptive access:
– Senegal’s Minister of Health Dr. Awa Coll-Seck discussed the country’s dramatic progress in eliminating contraceptive stock-outs since the national family planning program’s roll-out in November 2012, doubling the budget to CFA 200 million with plans for further increases in 2015.
– The Philippines’ Secretary of Health Dr. Enrique T. Ona discussed the country’s historic passage of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act, after a nearly 15-year battle.
– The First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata, highlighted Zambia’s stalwart commitment to expanding family planning access in the country, which launched its national family planning program last month.
– Indonesia’s Minister of Health Dr. Nafsiah Mboi announced the government’s increase in funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives, as part of its redoubled efforts to regain momentum on family planning access after recent plateaus.
– National Coordinator for Malawi’s Safe Motherhood Initiative, Mrs. Dorothy Ngoma, discussed the government’s efforts to considerably strengthen the family planning component of safe motherhood efforts countrywide.
“These countries show that we can make an impact on women’s access to reproductive health if we rally the necessary political will and financial commitments,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. “Expanding access to contraceptives is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to save lives and ensure the health and wellbeing of future generations.”
Continued advocacy will be needed to ensure that governments sustain and increase their commitments to family planning and to girls’ and women’s health and rights more broadly. In addition to a high-level plenary on innovative advocacy strategies, Global Poverty Project (GPP) CEO and Co-Founder Hugh Evans announced the new advocacy campaign It Takes Two, led by GPP in partnership with Women Deliver. This campaign aims to motivate young men and women to take action in support of family planning services and information, and to hold governments accountable for their FP2020 commitments.
The day’s conversations helped set the stage for Thursday’s discussions on the critical role of girls and women in the post-Millennium Development Goal framework. Speakers will include United Nations Development Program Administrator Helen Clark, Former President of Finland Tarja Halonen, High-Level Task Force on ICPD Member HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and African Women’s Development Fund CEO Theo Sowa, among others.
Increasing Population Control Using Midwives
At the conference, sexual and reproductive rights advocates have convened to present strategies on how to expand access to contraception and abortion to poor women and girls in developing countries.
One such strategy is incorporating family planning and abortion as essential competencies provided by midwives. A full day symposium hosted by UNFPA and a subsequent follow-up meeting discussed how to help governments scale up midwifery programs.
However, during a breakout session some attendees expressed concern over the “continuum of care” being proposed. “If you want to reduce maternal mortality,” a woman from Malawi said, “than lets look at morbidity.”
“Women are dying from lack of skilled birth attendants — this is the service they need to provide,” she continued.
One of her colleagues added that additional midwives were needed but the country lacked the funding to train them.
Countries that have made significant progress in lowering maternal mortality have done so by scaling up midwives.
A health care stakeholder from Ghana said that midwives in his country were already providing comprehensive abortion services.
While most maternal deaths occur from childbirth complications, family planning advocates primarily focus on increasing contraception prevalence to lower fertility rates and expanding access to abortion to reduce maternal mortality.
By supporting the scale-up of midwives, family planning advocates know modern contraceptive methods and abortion services will be more accessible and it allows them to tap into funding previously designated to maternal and child health services.
Because the Helms amendment prohibits U.S. funds from being used to perform or promote abortion, this new continuum of care should disqualify midwifery programs from receiving USAID funding.
By: Lisa Correnti