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Advocacy, Update

Family planning—healthy moms, healthy babies—is not a partisan issue

Fresh from the accomplishments of the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, Melinda Gates returned home to Seattle to address WGHA’s 2,500-person Groundswell event.

Days before, Melinda keynoted the historic London Summit where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development launched the Family Planning 2020 Initiative.

The London Summit led to political commitment and financial resources from developing countries, donors, the private sector, and civil society to meet the family planning needs of women in the world’s poorest countries by 2020.

“Why didn’t someone tell me about family planning earlier?”

Onstage in Seattle, Melinda shared stories of women she met in recent trips to Niger and Senegal who faced stockouts of contraceptives and wanted more time to heal between pregnancies.

Women asked her, “Why didn’t someone tell me about family planning earlier? I would have had only three children.”

Melinda turned to the audience and said that stories like these convinced her that investing in contraceptive access and healthy timing and birth-spacing counseling empowers women and girls.

And she didn’t just say investing in family planning empowers women and girls; at the London Summit her foundation announced an additional $560 million pledge, bringing the Gates Foundation’s total family planning investment to $1 billion by 2020.

2017 Global Summit on Family Planning

In July, Melinda returns to London for the 2017 Global Summit on Family Planning, along with many Gates Foundation staffers and others in our global health community. This summit will look at progress since 2012 and ask priority partner countries to up their financial game.

The timing of this summit is important. This year the United States is reevaluating its own commitments to global family planning.

Family planning is nonpartisan

Unfortunately, the family planning conversation is more complicated than it needs to be because it has been conflated with other issues.

Melinda Gates recognized the direction the conversation was heading back in 2014 when she wrote, “Around the world there is a deep, broad, and powerful consensus: We should provide all women the information and tools to time and space their pregnancies in a safe and healthy way that works for them. This approach is simple, it works, and it saves lives.

“The question of abortion should be dealt with separately. But in the United States and around the world, the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning.”

Read Melinda’s full blog here.

The data is clear. Access to voluntary contraceptives dramatically increases the number of mothers who live through childbirth.

We now know that family planning is a direct route to healthy mothers, babies, and families.

We know that culturally relevant counseling for men and women about healthy timing and birth spacing increases school attendance and can contribute to economic growth.

Social and health scientists even have a name for that economic benefit—the demographic dividend.

The demographic dividend

The demographic dividend is the economic boom that communities can experience when fertility rates go down and the ratio of dependents to income generators goes up.

The Population Reference Bureau observes this: “With fewer people to support, a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies are developed and investments made.”

Rwanda’s experience is telling. By providing access to voluntary family planning counseling and investing in child survival, the country cut child mortality in half in ten years. Fertility rates are significantly lower, and contraceptive use has grown by 400 percent.

Again, from the Population Reference Bureau: “If the impressive progress continues, Rwanda will, by 2030, have achieved the demographic conditions necessary for accelerated economic growth.” More on that here.

Healthy, productive futures

We’ve partnered with Global Washington this month to cover family planning leading up to the London Summit on July 10. The commitments made at that summit will affect not only organizations in our global health and development communities but also—and most importantly—the lives of women, children, and families in the world’s poorest countries.

I hope you’ll take a moment to read Kristen Dailey’s personal note in the Global Washington e-newsletter.

I hope, too, that you’ll see family planning for what it is: a nonpartisan issue that supports a world of healthy moms and healthy babies—something we can all agree on.

Dena Morris
President and CEO
Washington Global Health Alliance