health

Covid 'imperils family planning in poorest countries', says global project


Sixty million more women and girls in the world’s poorest countries are now using modern contraceptives, after an eight-year global effort to expand family planning services.

But the FP2020 global partnership, launched in London in 2012, warned that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting financial crisis imperils further progress.

According to the FP2020’s final progress report, published on Tuesday, 320 million women and girls are using some form of modern contraception in the 69 focus countries, up from 260 million in 2012.

The partnership had hoped to reach a figure of 120 million additional women and girls by 2020, but the increase was almost a third higher than had been projected over that period before the initiative began.

The number of users across Africa – which had the lowest uptake in 2012 – has grown by 66%, from 40 million to more than 66 million women and girls. In central and west Africa, users doubled, while in eastern and southern Africa, the number grew by 70%.

However, Covid-19 could cast a long shadow on progress. In April, two-thirds of the 103 countries surveyed by the World Health Organization reported disruptions to family planning services. The UN population fund (UNFPA) projected that as many as 47 million women and girls in 114 poorer countries could lose access to contraception.

While the worst-case scenario was averted through “partners working heroically to maintain services”, said Beth Schlachter, executive director of FP2020, the report noted that “the threat to reproductive health remains severe”, and would not be resolved soon.

The pandemic had “unleashed a host of corollary effects: a global increase in gender-based violence and child marriage, a global drop in women’s workforce participation and girls’ school enrolment, and a global economic recession”, said the report.

“The budgetary implications for family planning programmes are stark. Domestic government allocations and expenditures are threatened in numerous countries, and donors are already anticipating a decrease in their financial commitments or an inability to deliver on their commitments,” it said.

“A pandemic-related global recession will have knock-on effects throughout the world, potentially imperilling family planning resources for years to come.”

According to the report, before the pandemic the outlook for international funding for the next decade was that it would remain stagnant or even shrink.

Schlachter said the partnership had “bent the curve of progress sharply upward”, not only in reaching more women and girls but in expanding the choice of contraceptive methods available to them, firming up supply chains and reaching more young people. Without Covid-19, the target figure could have been achieved over the next four or five years, she said.

Funding was a concern, she said. “We are not sure that there is going to be additional funding.”

National governments would need to prioritise family planning in their budgets. But advocates would also need to form new partnerships with groups working in other development sectors, Schlachter said, such as those trying to mitigate the climate crisis or halt biodiversity loss.

“We have to expand aspirations, how we work with other partners,” she said. “We know that when women and girls use contraceptives they generally have smaller families. A rights-based approach to family planning sets us up for world where women are making decisions … that has a positive impact on population growth, climate change and on biodiversity.”

On Tuesday, the FP2020 will update its name to FP2030 and the number of countries involved will increase.



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