Making progress on family planning will require not only principles and commitments, but successful implementation, which must include four crucial elements, says John May of the US-based think tank Centre for Global Development.
Millions of women, particularly in developing countries, lack information on — and access to — family planning services. This not only jeopardises women's health, but also deprives them of basic rights to a better life, May says.
This week's Family Planning Summit, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), held in London, is expected to raise pledges of US$4 billion for services to 120 million women over eight years.
The summit brings family planning back to the centre of the development agenda, says May, and "the task ahead is huge, urgent and achievable". Family planning programmes have been "woefully underfunded" and "obscured by ideology", while women in developing countries remain unable to decide freely on matters of reproduction.
May argues that for the global health community to take positive steps forward, successful implementation will be key, and will depend on four crucial elements.
First is a sense of urgency — for example, ensuring rapid access to contraception in countries where fertility levels are high, which also tend to be those least developed.
And it will be important to keep family planning voluntary, says May, as was stipulated in a commitment made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. Efforts to supply high-quality services will need to be combined with efforts to boost demand for them.
Third, the family planning agenda should take into account broader development goals, including education and income generation. Eliminating child marriage will also be important, as will new mechanisms to provide incentives for good family planning services.
Finally, more evidence-based policies are required to help policymakers consider the links between population programmes and other development sectors. The information for this is available, but has not been translated into actionable policies, says May.