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Several stakeholders working in health have called on African countries to facilitate access to voluntary family planning for millions of their women and girls to attain vital goals in continental and global development agendas.
Panelists at a high-level event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, jointly organized by the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) announced plans to host a summit on family planning in the summer to speed up efforts.
Five years after the London summit and the launch of the FP2020 partnership to provide contraceptives to 120 million more women by 2020, there have been significant achievements towards improving access to voluntary family planning in Africa.
But the continent still has the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy in the world, with some five million girls lacking access to contraceptives.
Complications of pregnancy and childbirth also remain the primary cause of death for girls aged 15-19 years in Africa.
The high-level event at the African Union Summit served as a moment to reflect on key achievements, challenges and opportunities for scaling up access to voluntary family planning.
It also explored the central role of increasing access to voluntary family planning in Africa’s drive towards harnessing demographic dividend. It was noted that voluntary family planning enabled women and girls to complete their education, take up better economic opportunities and fulfil their potential.
“If you don’t have a working family planning programme, it is unthinkable to reap the demographic dividend,” remarked Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA’s Executive Director.
The demographic dividend is a boost to economic growth that happens when countries have a growing number of working people relative to those below or above the working age. They, therefore, spend less on dependants, can save more and have more disposable resources to invest.
Priti Patel, United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development, lauded recent progress in increasing access to voluntary family planning by implementing FP2020 commitments.
She said a lot needed to be done in reinforcing collective efforts to cover the last mile in ensuring access to voluntary family planning to millions of women and girls in Africa.
Secretary Patel and Dr. Osotimehin jointly announced that a follow-up to the FP2020 Summit will be held in London in 2017, with the goal of delivering a concrete plan to put the world back on course to meet FP2020 commitments.
Highlighting Africa’s efforts to make its youthful population play a more active role in development, Ambassador Olawale Maiyegun, Director of Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, stressed the need to create a conducive environment by increasing access to reproductive health and enabling girls stay in school, if Africa hopes to reap the demographic dividend.
He added that the African Union Commission was asking member states to ratify the African Youth Charter as one important entry point for harnessing the demographic dividend in the continent.
Yifru Berhan, the Minister of Health of Ethiopia, spoke at the event on the progress the country made in meeting the FP2020 commitments in increasing access to voluntary family planning. He said this had a remarkable effect in preventing millions of unintended pregnancies and averting maternal deaths.
The participants of the high-level meeting agreed on the need to increase investments and make strategic decisions to increase access to voluntary family planning through tailored, evidence based, participatory and multi-sectoral programmes.