By Dana Hovig
Impatient Optimists, a project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, February 5, 2013
Bill Gates recently asked people to tell him their hopes and dreams for 2030. For me there can only be one: that by 2030 we are finally living in the golden age of family planning. One in which everyone has access to whatever type of contraception they want, no matter where they live or what their circumstances are.
If we are to reach this golden age though, we must keep an ever watchful eye on results and impact, and make sure family planning services are available to the people who need them most. We must ensure access for the poorest of the poor, the next generation, and the 222 million people who want, but cannot get, a modern contraceptive method.
We know that people living in poverty, isolated places, and adolescents often struggle to access modern family planning methods. And that, with a woman dying every two minutes from a pregnancy-related complication, not being able to control the number or spacing of children can literally be a matter of life and death.
Marie Stopes International works hard to find innovative solutions to the physical, financial and cultural challenges of universal family planning. We take services wherever they are needed, by whatever means possible: nurses use rickshaws to reach people living in overcrowded slums in Dar es Salaam; boats in Sierra Leone to get to isolated riverside communities; and even donkeys to trek across Afghanistan’s mountains.
And importantly, we make sure money – or rather the lack of it – doesn’t stop anyone from discussing their family planning options with us and receiving a contraceptive method of their choice. By 2020 in fact, Marie Stopes International will have enabled more than 20 million women in the poorest countries to use contraception.
Measuring impact and analysing what’s working is imperative – a point which is not lost on Bill Gates, and was presented very well in his annual letter this year. You have to ask yourself: are we getting enough contraceptives out? And are we getting them to the right people? What’s getting the results and what needs changing to make a difference for the women we are trying to reach?
The world will be a very different place by 2030. More prosperous and equal we hope, but potentially facing challenges we need to think about now: people living in middle–income countries may find themselves in need of smart and innovative channels to access family planning as donors move out; reproductive health will still need prioritisation during times of crisis in a war-fractured world; and underserved groups like young people, those living in far flung places and the developing world will still need us.
I have no doubt in my mind that we are in sight of completing the family planning revolution. And, that 2030 could be the dawn of the golden age for family planning. The time when every birth is wanted, and everyone is empowered to take control of their fertility and their future. Universal family planning by 2030 is possible, let’s make it happen.
Dana Hovig is CEO of Marie Stopes International, a member of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Population Growth, and a technical advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He has worked in health and development for the last 15 years and holds an MSc in International Political Economy from the London School of Economics.