Commentary Health Systems

After the Summit: Down to Earth

Tewodros Melesse

We need to recognise that this Family Planning Summit is just a first step, and that it is crucial that we use the energy of the summit to drive us forward. We have to maintain momentum, and we have to do that by moving fast.

See all our coverage of the 2012 Global Family Planning Summit here.

On the day of the London Summit on Family Planning, I left the hall a little late. The seats were already stacked away, the stage was bare, the screens had gone, most of the delegates had departed, and the cleaners were sweeping up discarded order papers and agendas. It might have never happened.

I suppose, for some, there is now a niggling doubt that everything which the summit expressed – a movement asserting its significance with real vigour, hope, and energy – might similarly be forgotten.

I have no such qualms. I know that this event was a global energiser for hope. It was inspirational, and a landmark moment. Years of hard-fought advocacy, often against severe odds, began to coalesce. The political will to place family planning at the very heart of the development agenda has been secured. That is a critical shift.

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There is a proviso (as there always is), and it’s a simple one. It is to recognise that this is just a first step, and that it is crucial that we use the energy of the summit to drive us forward. We have to maintain momentum, and we have to do that by moving fast.

The remarkable funds committed to family planning on July 11th need to be made available, rapidly. Every month we spend devising complex structures, procedures and systems to distribute money to the front line of family planning, is a month which imperils thousands of women’s lives.

We need to get the promised funding on stream, starting today. We have to begin by identifying priority programmes and priority countries. We need to identify the most effective ways to deliver, and we need to focus on those mechanisms that can readily be accelerated. We need to provide immediate funds to facilitate delivery. It is going to be a phased process: but the first phase has to start, and soon. It goes without saying that all our work needs to be undertaken within a rights-based framework, and it has to adhere to rigorous quality standards.

As we set about this task, there will be a pressing need to coordinate different donors and agencies to ensure that there is no detrimental duplication of effort, or conflict in delivery. We need to make this new money work harder for family planning, and by decreasing overheads we can maximise the sums that we devote to our mission – to reach the goal set by the Summit of meeting the needs of 380 million new and existing family planning users worldwide. 

Civil society (which came together with such force via the Civil Society Declaration to the Summit, signed by 1,305 organisations worldwide) has a critical role to play, on a number of fronts. First, it needs to partner with policy-makers to ensure that policy environments are fully conducive to the rapid development and professional delivery of family planning programmes.

Secondly, in the vexed area of accountability, civil society needs to ensure that pledges made are fulfilled at country and international level. It also needs to hold itself accountable and to operate with total transparency. And finally, civil society needs to help protect rights, secure quality, and advocate for the implementation of SRHR regimes and programmes which are comprehensive, not partial.

Speaking for IPPF, the organisation takes its responsibilities in this area very seriously, and with such an extensive reach around the world, we feel we can play an important role in maintaining and enhancing civil society’s engagement with the whole process. It was at the express behest of the summit conveners that IPPF led the consultation with global civil society. Over 220 organizations participated in the development of the Civil Society Declaration to the London Summit on Family Planning signed by 1,305 groups. By mobilising civil society from 177 countries, a vast social movement has been secured. Given that 85 percent of those organisations are from the south, it brings the voice of the south to the table in force.  

The London Summit on Family Planning was a celebration of decades of work, a very public statement of principles and new political will, a commitment of funds, and a call to arms. Now we must follow through. I am confident that we can, and we will, because world development and the lives of millions depend upon it.   

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