Policymakers, experts root for greater access to contraceptives

Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente officiates at the opening of the 5th International Conference on Family Planning at Kigali Convention Centre yesterday. Nadege Imbabazi.

leaders gathered at the on-going fifth edition of the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) have called on governments and other partners around the world to improve access to quality family planning services.

The meeting, which kicked off yesterday in Kigali, was officiated by Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, who joined other global leaders gathered here in calling for more access to reproductive health services.

Ngirente said that family planning shouldn’t be left to women alone, urging every global citizen to contribute to its success.

“Quality family planning services are strong means of improving lives of women, children and families; therefore family planning is not a women issue, it affects all of us,” he said at the launch of the meeting.

He then urged the nearly 4,000 participants to share their experiences and best practices in family planning during the four days they will spend at the summit and also suggest how concrete actions to improve future family planning can be taken.

At the centre of the meeting will be deliberations on identifying next steps toward reaching the goal of enabling an additional 120 million women across the world to access voluntary, quality contraception by 2020.

The conference is being co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Rwanda’s Ministry of Health.

The country , which is being touted at the meeting as a good example of a place where family planning gains have been made in Africa, has provided long-acting contraceptives through an operational network of 58,286 community health workers at all village levels.

Rwanda, which reduced the fertility rate from 5.8 to 4.2 per woman between 2000 and 2015, has also established community based health insurance (Mutuelle de Santé) across the country which benefits 90 per cent of its population.

But Ngirente said that, for family planning programmes to succeed, they need to be complemented with other critical factors such as  better planning, good governance, good attitude towards work, and serious human capital development, especially early childhood development programme (ECDP).

“Our challenge as leaders is to think about other factors that complement family planning programmes bearing in mind that quality population is also an economic asset,” he said.

With “Investing for a Lifetime of Returns” as its theme, the conference seeks to highlight how investments into family planning help improve lives, with returns being seen in economic development as a result of better education, economic growth, and environmental protection, among other results.

Many participants at the meeting urged different stakeholders to work together to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted and safer births are secured for every child.

Many experts at the meeting said that, to succeed in family planning, governments and other actors need to invest in empowering the girl child and ensure that more people are aware of it.

“Our politics puts women and girls front and centre. Let’s be champions of women and girls’ rights. Let’s all use our collective powers to make sure all pregnancies are wanted and all births are safe,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister for International Development.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Natalia Kanem, agrees that good family planning is at the centre of sustainable development and needs to be a human right.

“The right to family planning enables individuals and couples to choose whether or when to have children, and how many they will have. Upholding this right is not only a moral imperative. It is also a path to shared prosperity and sustainable development,” she said.

Delegates at the meeting, who include political leaders, scientists, researchers, religious leaders, policymakers, advocates, and youth representatives, will share best practices and discuss next concrete steps to achieve global family planning goals.