Renewing Commitments to Family Planning at the London Summit: Everyone Has a Role to Play
On July 11, 2012, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.K. Government—along with UNFPA and other partners—convened the high-profile London Summit on Family Planning. The overall goal of the summit, held on World Population Day, was to raise $4 billion to ensure that contraceptive information, services, and supplies are available to an additional 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries by the year 2020.
The meeting’s attendees included high-level government officials, donor organizations, health and development NGOs, faith-based organizations, and private institutions, among others. It brought together the worlds of policy, finance, commodity, and service delivery to discuss ways to make family planning a global priority – by revitalizing commitments to family planning, increasing access to contraceptive supplies, and removing barriers that prevent women from accessing these vital services.
Reflecting the diversity of the attendees, speakers at the summit included representatives from governments, donor organizations, and private industry. A highlight of the summit was Melinda Gates’s speech during the afternoon plenary session. She began by announcing that the Gates Foundation will commit an additional $560 million dollars to family planning efforts between now and 2020 (twice what they are currently spending on family planning). Ms. Gates talked about the importance of world leaders committing to innovation on behalf of women. She encouraged leaders to think about family planning from the perspective of women, and that this would lead to real innovation.
Ms. Gates herself acknowledged that the aggressive plan of action—reaching 120 million women with family planning services and preventing 100 million unintended pregnancies, 50 million abortions, 200,000 pregnancy- and childbirth-related maternal deaths, and 3 million infant deaths in the next eight years—is ambitious. However, she remained optimistic and said, “If we listen to [the women], I know we are going to succeed.” She also talked about the importance of commitment from all in order to achieve these goals, stressing that everyone has a role to play.
During the summit, the donor community pledged a total of $2.6 billion: Donors included governments (including Norway, the Netherlands, the U.S., Australia, and others) as well as private donors and foundations (such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, in addition to Gates). But beyond Western players and wealthy nations, the summit’s organizers pushed for participation and commitment from all countries, regardless of income level. As a result, a total of $2 billion was pledged by developing country partners, including those in India, Indonesia, Malawi, and Nigeria.
Elected officials from a number of African nations publicly declared their support for family planning, and committed to reducing unmet need, reducing maternal mortality, and ultimately improving economic development. For example, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania stressed the importance of improving reproductive health indicators and said family planning is “good for overall growth and development of the country.” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame stated that increased family planning services will be driven by demand from women and families and that citizens set the pace and direction of family planning. And in a particularly moving speech, President Joyce Banda of Malawi shared her personal story of nearly dying during childbirth and declared: "No woman should die giving birth."
These are just a few examples of the great commitment to this issue by world leaders. The summit certainly seems to have reinvigorated the discussion around family planning, which has often been overshadowed by other health priorities over the past couple of decades.
But what comes next?
From this point forward, it is important that the world’s leaders follow through on what they promised to deliver. Yesterday, we saw historic monetary pledges for FP, even exceeding the stated goal of $4 billion; however, keeping this momentum going and ensuring accountability can only happen through increased collaboration and partnership at all levels.
When it comes to achieving the goals of this historic summit, everyone does have a role to play. Those of us who work on the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project will continue to ensure that information, tools, and resources are available to help scale up successful family planning efforts in low-resource settings. Focusing on ensure practices that work can help guarantee that this $4.6 billion is spent on ensuring that highly effective family planning services are provided to those who most need them the most.