Gates Foundation gives shot in the arm for family planning

Kellie Sloan, director of family planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo by: Gates Foundation

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced last November that the organization would invest an additional $120 million in family planning programs over the next three years — a 25 percent rise on its current funding levels — to meet the Family Planning 2020 goal of giving 120 million additional women and girls voluntary access to these contraceptives by 2020.

The foundation continues to invest, too, in expanding the range of contraceptives available to women such as injectables that community health workers can deliver directly from pharmacies or eventually that women and girls can self-administer from the comfort of their own homes, Kellie Sloan, director of family planning at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told Devex associate editor Richard Jones in an interview on the sidelines of last month’s International Conference on Family Planning in Nusa Dua, Indonesia.

“We believe in method mix — in other words, not one device fits all — and the more you have the more you meet the needs of women and girls,” she explained.

Below are more highlights from our conversation with Sloan about the state of play of current efforts, progress made and challenges ahead as we near the 2020 deadline for family planning goals.

We heard in a video address from Melinda Gates here at the ICFP 2016 opening plenary that $120 million would be directed towards a number of specific areas in family planning. This funding was first announced in November 2015, so what's the latest state of play?

When we saw the report for FP2020 last year and the data that came with that we knew that we were not tracking exactly as we should in terms of our ambition, but that we had time to close the gap. This year, when the report was launched, we saw that we were essentially on the same trajectory and now I think it’s time to accelerate and spur others to really feel the urgency as well.

This urgency, was the part we wanted to focus on and in doing so we spent time with Melinda [Gates] looking through the data on what we’re seeing and looking at potentially why we’re not accelerating in the right areas and what we need to do to spur others to raise their commitment as well. We wanted to go out of the gate saying, “We’re willing to commit more, and here’s what we’re doing.”

So we’re committing $120 million over the next three years and we have three specific high-level opportunities in which we’re going to engage based on the data we’ve been looking at, taking the evidence and encouraging others to use it as well.

There's been an interesting discussion this week about what family planning devices are accepted or not by patients, for example hormonal devices and implants versus injections and IUDs. What is the FP device you support most and why?

We believe in method mix — in other words, not one device fits all — and the more you have the more you meet the needs of women and girls. One of the areas we’re focused on is working with the private sector to expand their opportunities by providing a little flexibility. That said, we’re excited about a couple of them and I’ll share one in particular which is an injectable, that’s kind of an all-inclusive device. I’m excited about this one because it can actually be so flexible in that community health care workers can deliver it, it’s available through pharmacies, so it’s flexible for youth or adolescents, it could be flexible — or at least accessible — for them too. And over time we believe it could go towards home and self-injection, which is something that would offer a lot of opportunity for those that previously would have to travel in [to health care facilities].

And your key message here at ICFP 2016 this week? What’s your sense of how the discussions have gone and what you’ve really hammered home in your various interventions?

The key message really is that we — as a global community — came together in 2012 to make a commitment, a promise that we made to women and girls that we know also is a need that has broader health and development outcomes. So that’s why we’re here — we believe that we’re three years into it and have four years left, as you look at the data and evidence that we’ve gathered over the past couple of years, we’ve added an additional 24 million women.

So we’ve made some progress, but the progress is not along the lines of the ambition that we have ahead of us. However, I think we’re going to create some acceleration through these types of conversations and my core message has been reminding everybody about the fact that we came together, we made a promise based on data, and now as a community we have to come together to accelerate progress to get to 2020. We have four years left to do it.

Another core message has been to urge those here working in the community to look at the data, course correct and make the necessary changes or increase their own commitments. We now have timely, relevant data at our fingertips that we can use, we’ve cut the time in half needed for analysis and we can get it to decision makers faster. So course correct if you need to, but we have to do it together and that’s where I’m pushing hardest.

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About the author

  • Richard jones profile

    Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.