Follow-up to the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning

A version of this post originally appeared on K4 Health's Blog. Reposted with permission.

On Monday, September 17, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC, hosted “Maintaining the Momentum: Highlights from the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning (FP).” This panel discussion was a virtual who’s who in family planning – with the main room full as well as two additional rooms literally overflowing – as folks gathered to hear current luminaries talk about highlights and next steps to the 2012 London FP Summit, what is now called FP2020. Panel moderator Karen Hardee, of the Futures Group, reminded us that the Summit confirmed family planning as a critical and global issue and that it set impressive goals and raised $2.6 billion dollars in pledged funding over the next eight years with the goal of expanding access to voluntary rights-based family planning for 120 million new users in poorer countries. The gathering represented a melting pot of perspectives with a mix of representation from government, civil society, and the private sector. There were lots of champagne toasts, speeches, and celebration in London, like at any wedding. Now, two months into the marriage, the hard work begins: how do we implement the summit’s lofty goals?

“Do what you’re all doing – Do it More, Do It Better, Do It Together.”

DFID’s Julia Bunting, one of the Summit’s planners, spoke about the Summit’s success in bringing family planning back on the public health agenda, and rightly pointed out that despite the incredible amounts pledged to finance the goal, financing is really just one key to increasing family planning and contraceptive use. It is also important to encourage public health practitioners to consider the demand side aspects in limiting barriers to access. Julia also stressed that promoting family planning means creating partnerships and engaging stakeholders outside of the public health community, including those in the fields of economics and finance, environment and sustainable development, and even transportation infrastructure.

“We Need to Change the Paradigm of Monitoring and Accountability.”

Win Brown of the Gates Foundation spoke about generating a global family planning movement, and the monitoring challenges it presents, by considering contraceptive use, contraceptive data, and contraceptive choice in the context of the Summit’s goals. In considering contraceptive data, Win discussed the need to “change the contours of the monitoring evidence base.” Specifically, there is a need to shift from relying on the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) to developing and strengthening community-level data and service statistics. In order to do this, efforts should be focused on supporting country-level monitoring and evaluation plans and creating long-term solutions, such as increasing educational efforts to help those “in the trenches” to understand how to use data. With contraceptive choice, we also need to hold ourselves accountable for quality, equity, human rights, integration with other programs (such as maternal neonatal and child health), and voluntary family planning.

“Reproductive Rights are Basic Human Rights.”

Scott Radloff of USAID gave a brief overview of the organization’s history of family planning commitment. Though USAID remains the leading family planning donor worldwide – in the past four years, funds have increased from $470 million to $640 million annually under the Global Health Initiative – one of the major implications of the London Summit is that it expanded the circle of family planning commitments and voices. Scott touched on an important theme from the event: that partnership is key to success. He emphasized that any efforts should be synchronized and done in collaboration, not in parallel, with each other. For example, the Summit focused on countries with the highest unmet need, which dovetails with USAID’s efforts, creating an unprecedented opportunity in supporting women in choosing when and how many children to have.

“London 2012 was a ‘booster shot’ to family planning, injecting life and political will into the issue.”

Women Deliver’s Jill Sheffield remarked that the Summit placed family planning squarely at the top of the political agenda, reminding the world of the vital importance of family planning and injecting life and political will into the issue after it has long been neglected. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 – improving maternal health – has been off track and the least funded MDG largely because governments see family planning as too politically risky. Now, in the aftermath of the Summit, there may be a penalty if governments don’t take the risk to prioritize family planning programs and funding. This is strengthened by the fact that over 1,300 organizations worldwide supported the civil society declaration, supporting policy making and holding governments accountable. Jill closed with a challenge to prioritize young people in programming, as there are 3 billion people under the age of 25 in developing countries.

“We Have the Evidence, Now Use It.”

The 2012 London Summit represented a sea change in thinking about family planning and changed the landscape for women and girls. In the world today, there are still 220 million women in developing countries without access to information about or services for family planning. The Summit’s goal is to reach just over half of them. The Summit ended with a sense that closing that gap is the good, smart, and right investment because when women survive, families and nations survive and thrive. Regardless of their affiliation, the panelists all agreed that we must keep the momentum going.

The major take-away from this event is that, like any good marriage, it is going to take a lot of work and communication to keep the magic going. One of the most important things we can do is to let the passion ignited at the Summit fuel strong partnerships and programming. Though significant progress is needed to achieve FP2020, as Jill Sheffield urged attendees, “the Summit set forth a clear path and now we must keep the messages and outcomes visible.”

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