Family planning summit ends with call to involve young people

More than 4000 delegates attended the just-concluded 5th International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali yesterday. Leaders want youth involvement in family planning and reproductive health conversations. Nadege Imbabazi.

Leaders at the fifth edition of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) that concluded in Kigali yesterday urged stakeholders to strengthen their partnerships in promoting family planning and involve young people more in reproductive healthcare.

Bringing together more than 4000 delegates, the four-day meeting served as a platform for political leaders, scientists, researchers, religious leaders, policymakers, advocates, and youth representatives to share best practices in family planning and discuss next concrete steps to achieve global family planning goals.

Several participants at the meeting emphasised the young people, especially girls and women, need to be targeted with life-saving initiatives.

The US-based Guttmacher Institute estimates that 36 million young women aged 15–19 in developing countries are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy. Yet, more than half of them are not using modern contraceptives.

The report notes that roughly half of the 9.6 million pregnancies among this group each year are unintended, and about half of them end in abortion – most of which are unsafe.

Dr Ann Biddlecom, the Director of International Research at the Guttmacher Institute said that young women and men must have access to youth-friendly contraceptive services that include the provision of a wide range of method options, as well as medically accurate counselling and information.

“Investing in sexual and reproductive health care that meets adolescents’ needs is critical to ensuring young people are able to make voluntary and informed choices regarding contraception and relationships,” she said.

Experts in the matters of youth and reproductive health, such as Kokou S. Djagadou who is the Youth Division representative with the African Union, emphasised that for the youth to win the family planning battle, there needs to be strategies to eliminate stigma around sex, train healthcare providers, and overcome barriers that young people face in accessing reproductive health services in their local communities.

He also said that fighting against misinformation and addressing societal beliefs about young women’s sexuality remains key in addressing challenges to successful family planning.

“My daily work is not about high-level meetings or international conference like this,” he said at the meeting in Kigali. “It’s about empowering girls to ask questions, plan their futures, and access contraception without any fear or judgement”.

At the closing ceremony of the conference yesterday, a number of commitments were made by different players in the area of family planning.

As part of the promises to advance family planning, parliamentarians from 20 countries around the world committed to ensuring the right of all individuals to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

Then leaders of faith-based organisations present at the meeting committed to support quality family planning education and service delivery, and to work with governments and stakeholders to enact policies that expand contraceptive access, especially among the youth.

More than 500 young leaders at the meeting also called on conference attendees to remain accountable to their commitments, and on governments and donors for greater transparency in decision-making and funding to support young advocates.

Charity Giyava, a youth leader from Zimbabwe, said at the end of the meeting that she feels world leaders have understood the message that the youth need attention when it comes to matters to do with family planning.

“The world leaders are committed to engage with young people to address their needs,” she told journalists on the side-lines of the meeting just a couple hours to its closure.

A fresh assessment done by Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), a US-based global partnership that advances women’s access to lifesaving contraceptives indicates the areas where more efforts are still needed.

Among other findings, the assessment, dubbed 2018 Progress Report, says that women still need full information about different contraceptive options and their possible side effects in order to make an informed choice about the method that best suits their needs.

The data also indicates that there is significant room for improvement in the quality of counselling provided in most developing countries.

High-quality care and full, free, voluntary, and informed decision making are also crucial aspects of rights-based family planning, the assessment indicated.