Melinda Gates said this is one of the most important days of her life, and the litmus test of this International Family Planning Summit will be universal access to contraception. I’m writing this blog live at the International Family Planning Summit being held today in London and it has attracted a significant international audience who are committed to enabling women to plan their families. Sarah Montague (in picture below) introduced Melinda as the second speaker, following DfID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell who underlined both his department’s commitment to supporting developing nations and that the Prime Minister’s presence here later demonstrates the UK government’s dedication to seeing this vision realised. Ban Ki-Moon sent a video message and the WHO Director General Margaret Chan convened an international panel on increasing access and expanding choice.
Melinda introduced her friend Jane who grew up in Kibera, the Nairobi slum that I visited in June. Jane’s testimony was moving. Kibera is a slum with no electricity, water or sewerage for the million or more homes there. She said that two things had made a huge difference to her. One was the local church “being there for me”, encouraging her to continue her education and providing food when she was hungry. Her mother was the other life-changing huge influence, telling her to wait before starting a family, to get her education first. She now works in Kibera as a community worker, encouraging others to use family planning and sticking to education. She didn’t actually say what family planning method she used.
Promises are being made: more education in Sierra Leone, a doubling of the family planning budget in Zambia, thousands more door-step health visitors in India, linking access to contraceptives with social justice in Ethiopia. If these countries stick to their word, and if developed nations continue their support, transformation of maternal mortality and a choice of fewer children are possible. I’m not yet clear who is going to monitor these commitments; who will be keeping these countries accountable? Reducing the Maternal Mortality Rate was a Millennium Goal commitment which will be missed by many of the developing countries here today. I hope that we will hear at some point what is going to be different this time.