10 July 2017

Africa: A Smart Investment for Britain - Family Planning

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Contraceptives and family planning services help prevent both unplanned pregnancies and poverty, and are one of the best buys in international development

This week, as leaders reconvene in London on July 11, five years after the historic 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, we have a unique opportunity to not only take stock of where we are and how far we've come, but how far we have to go. For Britain, as the global landscape continues to shift, now is the moment to recommit to its unique role as a key driver in expanding family planning access, especially in light of the disturbing reversal of priorities from the current US leadership.

The world's women and girls need us more than ever. And for me, it's personal.

As a teenager, I traveled on an educational trip to Tanzania. While there, a young boy told me how his mother, who already had seven children, asked how she could stop having more. This young boy and the powerful request on behalf of his mother struck a chord with me. At 16 years old, I had easily received free contraception and information through the NHS, and was shocked to realise how few women and girls were able to access their fundamental rights like I was.

We know what works, and so does Britain, which continues to invest in global family planning not just because is it the right thing to do-it's the smart thing to do. Contraceptives and family planning services help prevent both unplanned pregnancies and poverty, and are one of the best buys in international development. Researchers estimated that every USD $1 invested in family planning saves governments from USD $2 to $6-money that can be invested in healthcare, housing, education and other public services. In fact, expanding access to family planning is one of the most cost-effective investments governments in development.

Providing access to family planning isn't just an affirmation of human rights-It is one of the best ways to help women and their children out of poverty. And when we give all women that opportunity, entire countries see their demographic patterns shift and economies are transformed.

Since the commitments made during the London Summit in 2012, when more than 20 countries pledged to improve access to contraceptives and donors committed US$2.6 billion in support, global support has continued to grow. Thanks to these commitments, today 30 million more women and girls are using modern contraceptives than in 2012 and gains in some countries, like Ethiopia and Rwanda, have been dramatic. This is incredible and should be celebrated.

But while we've made great progress, we are behind on our goals and the gains have not been distributed equally. 214 million women worldwide want to avoid pregnancy, but still aren't using modern contraceptives. Despite real progress in some countries, like Kenya, the poorest women still use contraception at half the rate of the rest of the population.

Research is underway to understand these issues better, such as our UK-funded five-country 'STEP UP' program that studies how best to provide contraceptives for teenage mothers, and to young women living with HIV and AIDS. As we learn from girls about what they need, governments must use this evidence to design programs that have the best chance of reaching them.

We have a long way to go to reach another 90 million women by 2020, but I'm energized to work even harder towards voluntary, quality family planning for all. As the US threatens to back away from its global responsibilities, the UK's role is more important than ever. On family planning, 'Global Britain' is the leader the world needs.

Julia Bunting is President of the Population Council, a New York-based, international non-government organisation conducting research on critical health and development issues, and a member of the FP2020 Reference Group.

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