Two months ago, world leaders met at the United Nations and adopted a set of ambitious goals that have the potential to advance health and human progress faster than at any time in history. Now, we must begin the hard work of translating these Sustainable Development Goals into action. Women and girls will be a driving force behind this global push, and their rights and well-being must be our top priority.
Ensuring that every woman has the information and services she needs to decide when and how many children to have is a critical first step. We have seen first-hand the huge gains for women, families and communities when there is equitable access to voluntary family planning and contraceptive services, and the devastating effects when there is not.
The benefits of family planning extend far beyond the individual. Access to a full range of contraceptive options will significantly reduce maternal and infant deaths and improve the overall health of families. Allowing young women to plan whether and when they want to start their families gives them the option to stay in school, join the workforce or pursue other dreams. This virtuous cycle that begins with empowering one woman can lift entire communities out of poverty. There is compelling evidence that increasing the number of healthy, educated and productive women will shift the economic well-being of countries like Nigeria. This shift will only occur if countries pair their economic and social policies with strong voluntary family planning programmes.
To support efforts already underway to bring these benefits to all communities, the global community pledged at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning to ensure120 million additional women and girls in the world’s poorest countries get access to voluntary family planning by the year 2020.Family Planning 2020, or FP2020, is a global partnership that was launched at the London Summit to carry this momentum forward.
Earlier this month, FP2020 partners released a report on the progress we have made against the 2020 goal. The report shows that, worldwide, family planning programmes are reaching millions more women than ever before. Since 2012, 24.4 million additional women have been using modern contraceptives—more than 1 million in Nigeria alone. In the past year, access to modern contraceptives has prevented 6,000 maternal deaths in Nigeria.
While successes like these should be applauded, it is no time to be complacent. The data show that we are falling behind and that millions of women are not yet being reached. Three years have passed since we set our ambitious goals in London. With only five years left until our 2020 deadline, we must act with greater urgency to speed up progress.
Thankfully, we know what works. We have a wealth of high-quality data and evidence on effective interventions, such as investing in youth, particularly adolescent girls, expanding access in both rural and urban settings, and improving the quality of services and number of contraceptive options that women have available to them. These solutions provide a strong base to inform our efforts moving forward. In order to reach more women and girls, we can look to innovative programmes like those in Nigeria.
Nigeria held its third national family planning conference last November where the Federal Ministry of Health unveiled a five-year blueprint to reach its FP2020 commitments. Since then, the Government and civil society partners have been working together to develop costed implementation plans at the state level to support the national strategy. At the community level, Nigeria is using social marketing for contraceptives to mitigate social and cultural barriers to family planning. Nigeria has also accelerated efforts to ensure that facilities are stocked so that when women come to them they are able to receive their preferred contraceptive method that day. This focus on last-mile distribution has greatly increased availability of contraceptives and improved data on what’s actually in the health facility, so that there are fewer stock-outs. These are the types of successful, locally owned programmes that are the cornerstone of family planning progress.
The launch of the third annual FP2020 progress report provides an opportunity for advocates, partners and government leaders to celebrate progress made, identify areas where we are falling behind and collectively recommit to the FP2020 goal. However, this is only the start of the conversation. Countries such as Nigeria must continue to share their successes and learn from each other’s experiences. We must also search for new solutions—using the evidence available to drive decision-making. This will require identifying innovative sources of financing and building on effective in-country programmes so that we don’t leave women and girls behind.
Now is the time to re-evaluate where we stand, ask hard questions and chart a path forward. The stakes are high. If we fail to meet our family planning goals, we will be putting the broader development agenda at risk. The global goals adopted at the United Nations in September represent a vision of a better world. Ensuring access to voluntary family planning so that every woman and girl has the means to invest in her future is the best way to make good on that promise.
—Contributed by Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, UN Under-Secretary-General/Executive Director, UNFPA, and Dr. Chris Elias, President of Global Development Programmes at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Both are Co-Chairs of the FP2020 Reference Group