LONDON — Ministers, donors, civil society groups and private sector partners are set to pledge at least $2.5 billion in new funding to improve and expand the reach of reproductive health services to women and girls in developing countries at the Family Planning Summit being held in the United Kingdom’s capital today.
Commitments are still coming in at the summit — taking place on World Population Day — with the total expected to exceed the $2.5 billion estimate by the end of the day.
More than half of the commitments counted so far will come from country governments in Asia and Africa, with India committing to spend an additional $1 billion by 2020, while Bangladesh said it will increase its family planning funding by nearly 70 percent to $615 million until 2021.
Advocates say the funding is crucial at a time when progress on family planning seems to have stalled, and the world’s largest bilateral donor — the United States — is pulling back.
High-level speakers at the summit — including Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; and Kristalina Georgieva, chief executive officer of the World Bank — have been stressing the importance of investment in family planning and addressing some of the challenges.
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The summit’s co-host, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is by far the biggest nongovernmental donor so far, committing $375 million over the next four years, a 60 percent increase on its previous family planning budget. The investment will focus on reforming supply chains and increasing the range of contraceptives available, with a special focus on reaching adolescent girls and tackling the particular challenges they face.
The U.K.’s Department for International Development has said it will allocate an additional 45 million British pounds ($58 million) a year to its family planning funding until 2022; while Norway will increase its investment by up to $50 million in new funding until 2020; and Belgium has said it will donate 36 million euros ($41 million) in multiannual core funding to the United Nations Population Fund, another co-host of the summit. Denmark will give an additional $15 million to UNFPA, while the European Commission is expected to announce 20 million euros ($23 million) in new funding to UNFPA Supplies for the 2017/18 period. The Netherlands said it will contribute $11.5 million to girls in refugee camps.
Australia also looks set to increase family planning support within its aid budget, despite initially indicating that there would be no new funding announcements. A new partnership with UNFPA will invest $30 million over the next four years to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services in the Pacific, following a campaign from civil society in the lead up to the summit.
Chris Turner, CEO of Marie Stopes International Australia, told Devex: “We are pleased that Australia is stepping up their support … Huge opportunity exists to address this need, and we look forward to working with UNFPA, with support from the Australian government to address it.”
Speaking at the summit, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, said that: “With so much at stake, the years between now and 2020 will be especially important. That’s why our foundation is committing an additional $375 million … to help the women and girls who have been left behind,”
Pointing to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. back from its role as the world’s leading family planning donor — including implementing an expanded version of the “global gag rule” and defunding the UNFPA — Gates acknowledged that “this additional funding can’t begin to close the gap that the U.S. budget cuts could create.” However, she said it represents a new drive to “partner with the private sector to ensure contraceptives are in stock when women need them — and that women have access to a range of options.”
The foundation will “also prioritize the needs of adolescents and gather more data so their voices and their needs are part of this conversation,” she added.
A further $1.5 billion is expected to be pledged by country governments in Asia and Africa, including a number of fragile countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has said it will allocate $2.5 million of its own resources per year, starting in 2017, for the purchase of contraceptives.
Chad, South Sudan and Haiti have also joined the family planning partnership Family Planning 2020 for the first time, committing to government reform and increased family planning access benchmarks.
“It is the [programming] countries and communities that ought to drive this agenda,” said Georgieva, speaking at the summit. “If we try to push family planning without ownership it will be like trying to push wet spaghetti … Local ownership is what will get us there.”
In total, at least 37 country governments, 16 private companies and 11 partner organizations — including civil society and private foundations — are set to make financial and other pledges.
The one-day summit is being held to “check in” on progress made since its predecessor event in 2012, which saw donors and countries come together with the goal of reaching an additional 120 million women with family planning services by 2020.
The 2012 conference raised $2.6 billion in new financial commitments and political support from more than 40 developing countries, leading to the creation of the FP2020 partnership to support work toward the targets.
However, progress has been slower than expected, with only 30 million additional women and girls reached since then, according to a mid-way review — significantly fewer than hoped.
Approximately 214 million women and girls in developing countries who do not want to get pregnant still do not have access to contraception, according to the latest data from the Guttmacher Institute.
Advocates point to the benefits of investing in family planning, including the impact on health, women’s empowerment, and access to education and the labor force.
The Guttmacher Institute estimates that each additional dollar spent on contraceptive services above current levels would save governments $2.30 in costs associated with unintended pregnancies, making it “one of the best investments for development and women’s empowerment,” according to Dr Natalia Kanem, acting executive director of UNFPA.
However, contraceptives alone are not the solution, Kanem added. “On it’s own, delivering contraceptives is not enough — education is key, and young people in particular need access to quality family planning information non-judgmentally,” she said.
The summit is also expected to see the launch of a number of new initiatives and partnerships designed to ensure that even the hardest-to-reach women and girls have access to family planning, including adolescents and people experiencing humanitarian crises.
For example, UNFPA and the NGO Nutrition International will announce a $1.5 million partnership, funded by the Canadian government, to integrate nutrition counselling, education and iron and folic acid supplements into family planning and maternal health programs. The partnership aims to reach 500,000 women and girls in Nigeria and Senegal within two years.
UNFPA Supplies — the world’s largest provider of contraceptives — is also set to announce a new “bridge-funding mechanism” to reduce contraceptive stockouts by improving procurement processes and reducing costs, aiming to be fully scaled up within two years. A new global platform — the Visibility Analytics Network — currently in development, will also provide real-time information about contraceptive supply chains using smartphones to help prevent and respond to stockouts.
Ten companies including Twinings, Vodafone, the Tata Trusts and the Chaudhury Foundation will also make new commitments to reach more women and girls with contraceptive products or to improve employees’ access to family planning.
Governments, donors and NGOs are committing to improve the collection and use of age and sex-disaggregated data to better design and evaluate programs, with a special focus on reaching teenagers.
Commitments from priority countries
The summit is also seeing first-time commitments from a number of priority countries. Chad — which has the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate in Africa, and is under pressure to catch up after a country-wide ban on contraceptives was lifted in 2002 — is pledging to increase its modern contraceptive prevalence rate from 5 to 8 percent by 2020. It aims to reach an additional 115,000 users during that time, and says it will begin growing its family planning community through reforms to its supply chain infrastructure and investment in civil society.
South Sudan — also among the lowest in Africa for modern contraceptive prevalence — is committing to increase the rate among married women from 5 to 10 percent and to reduce maternal mortality by 10 percent by 2020. The country has seen a rapid uptick in investment in family planning despite protracted conflict, and although contraceptive prevalence currently lingers at around 6.8 percent, a World Bank forecast suggests it will reach 23.5 percent by 2020.
Haiti — where less than half of all women use contraceptives, also lagging behind its neighbors — will, for the first time, embed a budget line in its ministry of public health to increase contraceptive purchasing by 5 percent by 2020. In addition, it will create an intergovernmental committee to manage family planning spending and has pledged to increase the country’s modern contraceptive prevalence rate by 10 percent by 2020.
Update, July 11, 2017: This article was amended to clarify that the UNFPA and Nutrition International collaboration is worth $1.5 million.
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