Meeting Unmet Need: Signs of Hope? (Part 1)

K4Health Highlights

Stephen Goldstein

CCP | Senior Consultant

Six months after the London Family Planning Summit there are signs of hope that 2013 will be a positive year toward providing an estimated 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries with access to contraceptives by 2020 so that they can plan the number of children to have or space their births.

A health worker counsels a woman on reproductive health and family planning in the Visayas region of central Philippines

A health worker counsels a woman on reproductive health and family planning in the Visayas region of central Philippines. Voluntary family planning programs are allowing women and couples to plan the number of children they want to have.

© 2000 Liz Gilbert, Courtesy of Photoshare

As of January 8, 2013 financial commitments by donors and the private sector at the London Summit reached a total of US$2.625 billion. My colleague Allison Bland wrote in an earlier K4Health blog: “Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) will continue to frame our discussions as governments, civil society, and technical institutions move toward the 2020 target.”

Also in January, after more than a decade of opposition, Philippines President, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, III, signed into law the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. The new law guarantees universal access to contraceptive methods, sexual education, and maternal care. A guiding principle states: “The provision of ethical and medically safe, legal, accessible, affordable, non-abortifacient, effective and quality reproductive health care services and supplies is essential in the promotion of people’s right to health, especially those of women, the poor, and the marginalized, and shall be incorporated as a component of basic health care.”

Congratulations to the people of the Philippines for taking a huge move that will undoubtedly reduce the unmet need for family planning and eventually help to lower the total fertility rate for the country, which was estimated at 3.2 children per woman in 2012.

The Philippines’ legislation gives encouragement to those of us who advocate family planning and reducing unmet need. We should remember that the reasons for unmet need vary widely over a woman’s lifetime, and many factors are involved. PRB’s World Population Data Sheet (2012) states that some of these include:

  • Limited financing for commodities and services and a poor logistics system,
  • Side effects of contraceptives and health concerns,
  • Cultural and religious objections,
  • Lack of  knowledge, and
  • Objections from a spouse.

Meeting unmet need is a difficult nut to crack and takes not only money but also behavior change, accurate information, effective communication, quality reproductive health care, and more. Despite these challenges, we must keep trying. As Melinda Gates wrote in a Foreign Policy piece in November 2012, “Contraceptives unlock one of the most dormant but potentially powerful assets in development: women as decision-makers. When women have the power to make choices about their families, they tend to decide precisely what demographers, economists and development experts recommend. They invest in the long-term human capital of their families. They don’t do it because they’re worried about GDP; they do it because they’re worried about their children’s futures. But the two fit together beautifully.”

The Knowledge for Health Project (K4Health) and its partners offer many products to help both providers and clients narrow the unmet need gap for family planning:

Later in 2013, the Bill and Malinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health will hold the next International Conference on Family Planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 12-15, 2013. Let us hope that by that time we will continue to have additional positive news to report about meeting the unmet need for family planning. 


Unfortunately the Supreme Court in the Philippines temporarily suspended the enactment of the new Reproductive Health Law which was due to go into effect on March 31.  The suspension is for four months. (For more details, see the SunStar report at:

According to a report in the Philippine Daily Enquirer (, "An international women’s conference organized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last week gave Sen. Pia Cayetano its Rising Star Award for her efforts in the passage of the reproductive health (RH) law in the Philippines."Cayetano was recognized for standing up for women’s health and rights at the 3rd Women Deliver Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which focused on promoting women’s well-being."