On World Population Day, observed on Wednesday, the U.K. Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will host the London Summit on Family Planning. The following are summaries of opinion pieces published ahead of the conference.
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
A Lancet series on family planning, published Tuesday, “reviews the evidence for the effects of population and family planning on people’s well-being and the environment,” according to the series’ executive summary (7/10). One study in the series, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, “shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” the New York Times reports (Tavernise, 7/9). A second study, led by John Cleland, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found “[c]ontraceptive use saves the lives of more than a quarter of million women each year, either from death in childbirth or unsafe abortions,” according to Agence France-Presse (7/10).
In a Guardian opinion piece, part of the series “The politics of family planning,” columnist Zoe Williams examines family planning Nepal. Noting her trip to the country with Save the Children, Williams discusses a number of barriers to family planning for Nepalese women — including the practice of child marriage, stigma surrounding menstruation, and cultural beliefs about contraception — and writes, “In Nepal, opportunities for women are not all they should be, and child pregnancy is a big issue.” However, she adds, “Nepalese women are far from subservient, and are learning to take control of their lives” (7/6). The column is accompanied by a photo slideshow (Lee, 7/6).
With the closure of the Global Health Initiative office and the establishment of the Office of Global Health Diplomacy within the State Department last week, “[t]he Obama administration made some quiet changes … that strengthen one of its most significant policy shifts: that global health and foreign assistance are critical components of diplomacy,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), writes in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. The new office “will implement the principles of the Global Health Initiative that make economic and humanitarian sense, namely a woman-centered approach, country ownership, and health sector integration,” she writes, adding, “The GHI’s principles have the potential to make real progress against the world’s greatest health challenges, and we have to pay meticulous attention to ensuring they are put into action.”
With the London Summit on Family Planning scheduled to take place this week, Melinda Gates writes in a post on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog that family planning “can mean everything to so many of the women and families I meet.” She continues, “Providing family planning information and services to millions of women and girls in the poorest countries in the world gives them the opportunity to determine their own futures, and the best future for their children. As a woman and a mother, I can’t imagine anything more important.” Gates asks readers to watch and comment on a short video on the site (7/6).
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “tried to deflect controversy” surrounding the London Summit on Family Planning to take place this week, stating that “giving women better access to contraception had become her lifetime’s work,” the Guardian reports (McVeigh, 7/7). “On Wednesday, the Gates Foundation and the British government will convene a summit of world leaders in London with the goal of raising $4 billion to make contraceptives available to an additional 120 million women in the poorest countries,” the Seattle Times notes, adding, “The move puts the Gates Foundation on a collision course with the Catholic Church and elements of the religious right” (Doughton, 7/7). U.K. Minister for International Development Andrew Mitchell supported Gates, saying, “We have to focus on what we know there is widespread support for,” according to the Guardian.
The Financial Times examines efforts by “Ethiopian policymakers, faced with a rapidly expanding population and rising numbers of HIV/AIDS infections,” to integrate family planning into HIV counseling and testing programs in the country. “When counseling women on reproductive health or child immunization, family planning clinics can also discuss HIV testing and prevention, particularly condom use, as well as introducing pregnant women to mother-to-child HIV transmission prevention services,” the newspaper notes.
“A group of 15 prominent Chinese scholars issued an open letter on Thursday calling for a rethink of [the] country’s family planning laws, arguing that the law in its present form is incompatible with China’s increasing respect for human rights and need for sustainable economic development,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time Report.” “‘The birth approval system built on the idea of controlling population size as emphasized in the current ‘Population and Family Planning Law’ does not accord with provisions on the protection of human rights contained in the nation’s constitution,’ the authors of Thursday’s letter wrote, adding that a rewriting of the law was ‘imperative,'” the blog adds.
Ahead of July 11, World Population Day and the date of the London Summit on Family Planning, VOA News examines family planning efforts in Uganda, where the average woman will give birth to about seven children during her lifetime. “Access to family planning is not the only problem, says [Ministry of Health official Jennifer] Wanyana, who adds that many Ugandans oppose contraception for cultural reasons or they associate family planning with promiscuity,” VOA writes, adding, “Experts say that beliefs like this might be the most difficult challenge.” The article discusses efforts by the health ministry to educate the public and provide contraceptives and health care (Heuler, 7/5).
In the third post in a series by Marie Stopes International published on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists” blog, Mukanga Sindazi, the outreach team leader with Marie Stopes in Zambia, discusses his work traveling through the rural Central Province to educate women and men about family planning and provide modern contraceptives. “At the family planning summit in London next week, I hope world leaders will recognize the challenges facing rural women,” he writes, concluding, “So our hope is that we can all come together to remember the girls and women of the countryside. Our hope is that they can imagine a world where, however isolated your community, having contraception is a usual thing — and not a luxury” (7/5).