In London, a recent summit on family planning was attended by representatives from more than 23 developing nations. These included representatives from religiously conservative countries such as Niger and the Philippines, which both have high population growth rates and seen recent moves by their governments to raise the profile of family planning.
The summit’s aim was to highlight the fundamental role which family planning plays in reducing infant and maternal mortality, as well as tackling poverty across the developing world. Studies suggest that if all women in developing nations had access to contraception, 79,000 maternal deaths and 1.1 million infant deaths could be avoided through lower numbers of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, as well as through improvements to women’s and children’s health because pregnancies are more limited or spaced apart.
Participants and organisers of the summit hope that raising the profile of this issue will generate significant policy changes in many countries and lead to greater financial support for family planning services. The summit also laid the foundations for a new family planning agenda and the formation of a Family Planning 2020 taskforce. One item high on the agenda is to ensure family planning issues are integral to any new development framework after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.
In the Philippines, the current government finally managed to pass a new health bill at the end of last year promoting wider access to contraception and family planning advice, despite strong opposition from the Catholic Church. However, health workers are still waiting to introduce new services, because the country’s Supreme Court has said any action must wait for four months until challenges to the law are reviewed.
Speaking to the news agency IRIN, a parliamentarian and one of the chief authors of the law said campaigners had not been expecting this legal restraining order and that the situation reflected “just how difficult” reproductive health issues were to implement in the Philippines. However, campaigners hope that soon health workers will be free to implement the new law and provide access to free reproductive health services, which should particularly benefit the poor.
Writing on the summit, a spokesperson for the International Planned Parenthood Federation summed up why access to family planning is so important for millions of women in developing nations – “We know that when women are able to choose, they choose more for their children, not more children.”