Addis Ababa — This week world leaders will come together to draw attention to the need for family planning services. Under the theme of "Full Access, Full Choice," it is believed that the 2013 International Conference on Family Planning will again shed light on the fact that despite wins achieved in the area of access to family planning services, much work remains to be done.
Today, there are still 300,000 preventable maternal deaths per year, and 222 million women in developing countries who have an unmet need for contraception. Moreover, the recently released UNFPA Report: "The State of the World Population 2013," indicates that there are 7.3 million girls under 18 who give birth every year, with 95 percent of these births occurring in developing countries. These girls may no longer have the opportunity to attend school, to gain the skills needed to find a job and build a future - and may be at risk of significant health problems from early childbirth.
The report also reveals that among developing countries, West and Central Africa accounted for 6 percent of the girls who give birth before the age of 15, while East and Southern Africa contributing 4 percent. In total, 10 percent of the 2 million girls have given birth before the age of 15 live in Africa.
As a continent, we must do better - both in our actions, and our words. If we want to see a future where Africa continues to rise in the global arena, we need to curb the trend of children having children. To do this, we must ensure that every girl and woman has access to family planning services and information, while providing support for healthcare workers who have the tools, skills and education to help keep our families healthy and strong.
Access to family planning also prevents up to 1 in 3 maternal deaths and 1 in 11 child deaths. And providing girls, women, and their partners with family planning information and services empowers them to decide the number, timing and spacing of their children. It's a critical strategy to ensure that our young girls can and should determine their future.
Through the efforts of African countries working in partnership with leading NGOs such as Women Deliver, UNFPA, Partners in Population and Development and The Global Poverty Project, awareness about and demands for improved access to family planning services is growing. I am hopeful that this conference will not only shed much needed light on this issue, but will drive the actions needed to make real difference in improving maternal and child health.
Just this week I received a petition from the It Takes Two campaign at the ICFP with over 40 000 signatures from young people across 25 countries, including Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and thousands from Ethiopia, who, via mobile, showed their support for family planning services to be available for every girl and woman by 2030.
This is evidence that young people want family planning.
It will take all of us. From leaders in the Global North to leaders in the Global South, the private sector to NGOs, we cannot achieve universal access to family planning services alone. We need every country in Africa to give due consideration to the necessity for family planning to be a priority in the new development agenda.
And we are getting close. Year by year, Africa continues to recognize that gender equality is one of the most effective ways to fight extreme poverty and build healthier, more educated, and wealthier communities. We've learned that investing in girls and women makes economic sense - as women reinvest up to 90 percent of their incomes back into their own households. But with this knowledge comes the responsibility to act. And right now, we are on the brink of unleashing this huge potential within our countries.
Africa is indeed rising. But to stay the course, we must act to ensure a positive future for our youth, especially our girls. This is a priority that must be included in the new development agenda. As the leaders of Africa, it is our responsibility to champion this issue so that we can achieve the world we want and need for women and girls, at home and everywhere.
Let this be the legacy of Africa. The future of our continent depends on it.