One of the most important days of Melinda Gate’s life – but will things change?

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.Image

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.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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