Next week, leaders from across Africa and around the world will meet at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning in Dakar, Senegal. This meeting comes at a critical time, as we examine how to navigate a world with increasingly constrained resources and create a future that fosters health and development worldwide. The meeting also occurs during World AIDS Day. Women now comprise the majority of those living with HIV in Africa, and access to male and female condoms to prevent both HIV and unwanted pregnancy is crucial.
The benefits of family planning are plentiful and powerful. Simply put, family planning saves lives. Currently, more than 215 million girls and women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy don’t have access to family planning. Each year, 358,000 women die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications. Universal access to family planning could reduce these deaths by up to one-third.
Providing girls, women, and their partners with family planning information and services empowers them to decide the number, timing, and spacing of their children – and whether they want to become pregnant at all. Wanted pregnancies are safer and healthier pregnancies. Access to family planning prevents up to 1 in 3 maternal deaths and 1 in 11 child deaths, and is a critical strategy to reaching Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.
In Uganda, a woman will have an average of six to seven children in her lifetime. This poses a serious health risk to her and her children, and has financial implications for families. When couples manage their own fertility they can better plan to care for their family by investing their resources in education, health, savings, and business opportunities. This is how we can end the cycle of poverty.
At the national and global levels, family planning is immensely cost-effective: satisfying the unmet need for contraceptives would reduce overall health costs, saving over US$1.5 billion a year. The cost of protecting a couple from unintended pregnancy ranges between US$10-$15 per year, making it one of the most affordable and effective life-saving solutions available.
The Ugandan Minister of Health, Dr. Christine Ondoa, will be present at next week’s meeting. Joined by numerous health and finance ministers from across Africa, Dr. Ondoa will discuss the importance of increased access to family planning in Uganda and region wide. Currently, only 18% of married women in Uganda report contraceptive use. This number can and should be higher.
The good news is that we have family planning solutions; we just need to make them more accessible. Providing variety is critical: voluntary family planning works best when women have a full range of contraceptive options and can choose, access, and afford the method best suited to their needs. We need strategies to reach marginalized and remote communities, and for that reason community health workers need to be supported. And finally, knowledge is power: we need to provide girls, women, and their partners with the information they need to make informed decisions.
The time is now to put words into action. Our world’s population recently reached a staggering seven billion. As we debate how to handle a world of this size in the face of growing global inequity, one thing is clear: we must empower girls and women everywhere. According to the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, gender equality is critical to improving development results. Research shows that engaging women’s skills and talents around the world will lead to significant productivity and economic gains. Uganda should continue to lead in efforts to demonstrate this in reality.
In March, Partners for Population and Development and Women Deliver will convene regional experts, policymakers, researchers, and activists in Kampala to share success stories and lessons learned around women’s health. The conversations will include a variety of voices, as every sector has a role in making a difference for girls and women in Uganda and worldwide.
At the International Conference on Family Planning , we will discuss ways we can accelerate action to deliver life-saving results for women and girls, with far-reaching benefits. Reproductive rights, including family planning, are a fundamental stepping stone to gender equality. It is now more important than ever to ensure that all children are wanted, and all citizens have the resources they need to realize their full potential.
Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, Regional Director, Partners in Population Development and Jill Sheffield, President, Women Deliver
Flickr photo by: The Gates Foundation