12 July 2017

Africa: Family Planning Summit Overshadowed by U.S. Funding Cut

Photo: Thomson Reuters Foundation News
Family planning (file photo).

Donor countries at a London summit pledged Tuesday to increase funding for family planning, but proposed cuts to family planning programs by the U.S. government overshadowed the conference.

The largest boost in donations announced at the Family Planning Summit came from the U.S.-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which sought to improve women's access to contraceptives.

"The $375 million that the foundation announced today, that is absolutely not a reaction to President [Donald] Trump," Melinda Gates said. "There is not anything anyone can do to fill the bucket of the money that the U.S. has committed to family planning."

The United States is by far the biggest donor to global family planning programs, giving $600 million this year. But Trump announced in April that he planned to withdraw financial support for the U.N. Population Fund, accusing it of using what he called "coercive" family planning practices, including providing abortions. The United Nations strongly rejected the claims.

Nigeria's minister of health, Isaac Adewole, told VOA the cuts would have an impact.

"Every country in the developing world will be worried, because it really signifies an increase in the [funding] gap," he said. "We know family planning is one of the strongest anti-poverty strategies the world has ever known. It is a low-hanging fruit for reducing maternal mortality. It will contribute to shared prosperity."

Call for action

By 2050, Nigeria is on course to be the third most populous country, with more than 400 million people. Nigeria's minister of budget and national planning, Zainab S. Ahmed, said action was needed fast.

"Our economy cannot grow fast enough to be able to sustain that size of population," Ahmed said, "so it is a very significant challenge and we need to address it now."

Nigeria is budgeting $3 million for family planning programs in 2017 and says more is needed. Ministers say reaching young people is key.

The African MTV drama "Shuga" weaves messages around sexual health, contraception and HIV, and it reaches an estimated 720 million people. It's currently partly funded by the U.S. government.

Georgia Arnold, executive director of the MTV Staying Alive Foundation, said, "It is much harder for governments and organizations to be able to speak openly about sex. That is where we come in. We can use our brand. We can use our access to young people and all of the media platforms that they use."

Delegates expressed hope that partnering between the private sector and governments can provide improved access to contraceptives and family planning advice.

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