Plans for major family planning summit take shape in Europe as US cuts back

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the London Summit on Family Planning held in July 2012. Photo by: Russell Watkins / DfID / CC BY-SA

Work is underway for a repeat of a major reproductive health summit, which raised $2.6 billion when it was first held in 2012, as the international community braces itself for the knock-on effects of the United States cuts to family planning services.

The 2017 London Summit on Family Planning will be held in London, United Kingdom on July 11, organized by the U.K. Department for International Development, the United Nations Population Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is designed to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to sexual and reproductive health by 2030.

Julia Bunting, president of the Population Council, who was involved in organizing both the 2012 event and its revival this year, told Devex that the summit will include a special focus on strategies to increase the number of adolescents with access to contraception and on reaching women and girls in humanitarian settings.

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Innovative financing solutions for high-quality contraceptive devices, and partnerships to strengthen supply chains and expand the range of contraceptives available, will also be topics under discussion, according to a concept note.

The summit will build on the success of its predecessor event, held in 2012, which raised $2.6 billion in new financial commitments, and led to the creation of the UNFPA-hosted Family Planning 2020 partnership — of which the U.S. Agency for International Development is currently a member — which aims to give 120 million additional women access to family planning services and education by 2020. Thirty-six developing countries also pledged to work to address the barriers to family planning information and services as a result of the 2012 meeting.

The family planning community reached a major milestone last year, when FP2020 reported that the number of women and girls using modern contraceptives in the world’s 69 poorest countries had reached 300 million. But advocates say that developments in the U.S. are putting this progress at risk.

Many aid organizations are grappling with the U.S. government’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule” — which could see as much as $8.8 billion slashed from global health budgets after more details of the policy were announced on Monday — and its defunding of UNFPA, costing the population fund its second biggest donor.

President Donald Trump’s gag rule — a significant expansion on previous versions of the rule, which cut the equivalent of about $600 million in family planning aid — would prohibit any U.S. global health assistance from going to foreign organizations that work on abortion counseling, referrals or services. Organizations offering those services must choose between continuing to provide them or giving up all U.S. government funding — as most major family planning organizations have indicated they will do.

“Women and girls must be at the center of this conversation — when funding or political support dwindles, they are the ones that suffer.”

— Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020

Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020, signaled the importance of the London summit in this context.

“Women and girls must be at the center of this conversation — when funding or political support dwindles, they are the ones that suffer,” she said. “The summit provides a much-needed opportunity for the global health community to come together to support rights-based family planning programs that reach women and girls everywhere.”

It follows a conference held by governments in Brussels, Belgium in March which raised $190 million for family planning services in the wake of Trump’s decision.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation predicts the gag rule will mean it is unable to prevent approximately 20,000 maternal deaths, 4.8 million unintended pregnancies and 1.7 million unsafe abortions.

Bunting told Devex it would be “devastating” for women and girls in developing countries and was likely to increase, not decrease, the number of abortions being carried out worldwide due to the reduced availability of contraceptives, as well as leading to more maternal deaths.

“In July, we will be bringing together and re-energizing that global movement [and] that momentum as we continue to want to see increases in the number [of women with access to family planning] and particularly pushing towards universal access,” she said.

While USAID is currently a member of the FP2020 global partnership, Bunting said it was too early to tell whether it would be able to continue its support going forward, given the mooted U.S. government budget cuts and the administration’s stance on funding for family planning services.

“The U.S. administration for 50 years has been at the vanguard of international family planning efforts and so we are really keen to see that U.S. funding, but also importantly U.S. leadership, continues in this space,” she said.

In a recent blog post, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote that the July summit would “discuss the real challenges we’ve encountered over the past five years since we first set this goal — but we’ll also celebrate the fact that progress is accelerating … If we do this right, what happens in London won’t stay there. The real test of this summit’s success is the impact it will have on communities all over the world.”

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About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.