Dr Tony Falconer, RCOG President, writes...
Today sees the gathering of minds on sexual and reproductive healthcare issues at the London Summit on Family Planning organised by the UK Government, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
A number of words have been used to describe the summit: ‘landmark’ and ‘groundbreaking’ are two. To that, I would add the word ‘bold’. This is because the summit’s vision and scope are bold. The broad aim is to agree on a way forward to provide an additional 120 million women and girls in 69 of the world’s poorest countries with access to modern contraception options between 2012 and 2020.
But why are the likes of the Department for International Development (DFID) focussing on family planning? Quite simply because women in under-resourced countries are dying as a result of the lack of access to effective contraception care. Worse still, knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health is generally poor.
This summit is about empowering women and girls to make informed choices that are right for them. It is about providing them with the support so that their life opportunities improve. It is about ensuring that their partners, families and communities are made aware of the many benefits when women are able to control their own fertility.
There are a wide range of other related issues such as the long-term burden of teenage pregnancy and STIs, the consequences of unsafe abortion and the impact of child marriage in countries where the practise is prevalent which will no doubt receive some air time on the day. I look forward to the debate and discussions.
I have strong ties with Africa. I have trained in Zambia and later in South Africa and as RCOG Vice President (International), spent much time there speaking to local doctors, midwives and nurses. What struck me was the incredible passion and resourcefulness of my colleagues. Despite the many challenges they face daily, they are constantly looking for more innovative ways to engage with and treat women.
The latest Lancet Series makes the compelling case for prioritising family planning in under-resourced countries. The evidence we are presented with is of the pivotal role of preventive medicine to lower the unacceptably high maternal mortality rate in these countries.
It is clear to me that simple ideas can sometimes work better than the most elaborate and the best way to achieve this is to allow healthcare professionals, working closely in partnership with the communities they serve, to develop their own local solutions. Thereafter, investment is needed and this is where we come in.
Much time and effort has gone into ensuring that countries meet with the Millennium Development Goals. As a College, we have focused on our strengths in capacity-building and in the training of skilled birth attendants. Recognising all the good work that has been done so far, it is perhaps time for us to explore other possible strategies.