Universal Health Coverage, but not without Family Planning

By Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, MD and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health; and Kerigo Odada, Lawyer and PhD researcher at the University of Pretoria, Centre for Human Rights

Under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, target 3.7, universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services includes family planning (FP), information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies by 2030.

According to UNFPA, in 2021, 49 percent of women aged 15–49 years worldwide, and 32 percent in least developed countries, were using some type of method of contraception. This drives the International Conference on Family Planning which, since 2009, has brought together the global development community to take stock of developments around access to family planning, and chart the way forward for achieving the shared vision of universal FP access.

FP, which refers to supplies and services that enable individuals and couples to attain and plan for their desired number of children, including the spacing and timing of births, is fundamental to the health and survival of women and girls.

Access to FP, including emergency contraception, safe abortion services, and post-abortion care, is a component of the right to health and, in particular, the right to sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, reports that the past two decades have witnessed a rise in the demand for FP; use of modern contraceptives increased from 663 million to 851 million between 2000 and 2020. This growth is expected to continue by 2030.

All plans for universal coverage must include FP access.

Regrettably, a large gap persists between women’s reproductive needs and options. Significant disparities remain across countries and regions due to limited choice of methods; limited access to services; stigma; cultural or religious opposition; poor quality of available services; and users’ and providers’ bias against some methods. Gender-based barriers exacerbated by underlying structural, social and political systems of discrimination, continue to disproportionately affect young women, indigenous women, women with disabilities, rural women, migrant women, and LGBTQIA+ persons. Many people still do not have complete bodily autonomy and reproductive choices as envisioned in the International Conference on Population and Development program of action and Beijing declaration and platform for action.

Against this backdrop, therefore, ICFP 2022 must reinforce all existing policy, structural and social measures meant to safeguard access to FP globally and further advocate for new and renewed support for access to family planning and protection of bodily autonomy as a whole. Bodily autonomy is a political, social and legal principle that underscores the importance of respecting the capacity of persons to think for themselves, and make judgments about what they deem to be good for them.

FP is a fundamental pillar in universal health coverage, and in ensuring the well-being of individuals, families, and communities worldwide. The ICFP is a community of changemakers, and must continue to be resourced to continue the various work on policy, services, research, and funding of programs to ensure the realization of SRH and rights.

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This article is a part of PSI’s ICFP 2022 Impact Magazine. Explore the magazine here.

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