Tomorrow, on World Population Day, world leaders will meet in London to discuss expanding access to family planning for millions of women around the world.  Many people have been asking me why the London Summit on Family Planning is important.  This brings me to think back to when my wife and I first thought about having children.  It was an exciting time; much thought went into planning our family.  We decided to have two children, spaced two and a half years apart, as that was the number we thought we could provide enough support, attention, and education.  For more than 40 years USAID has worked to enable millions of couples from around the world to plan their families like my wife and I did.

The London Summit on Family Planning is important because despite all the many advances in family planning, with countries that no longer need assistance in this area, for all the millions of couples who are now using family planning services, there remain millions who want to space or limit their families, but do not have access to the clinics, the commodities, or the services they need to do so.

In fact, the statistics tell the story:

  • More than 200 million women and girls in developing countries who want to delay, space or avoid becoming pregnant are not using effective methods of contraception, resulting in over 75 million unintended pregnancies every year.  This puts women and girls at serious risk of death or disability during pregnancy and childbirth, including from unsafe abortions.
  • Most women today want two, three or four children – fewer than in generations past.  The use of modern contraceptive methods has increased rapidly over the past 30 years.
  • Most of this increase reflects greater contraceptive use by women.  But in many countries, poverty and profound inequalities between men and women limit women’s ability to plan their pregnancies – so does lack of access to effective contraceptive protection.
  • In some cases, women do not have access to a range of contraceptive method options or find their preferred method out of stock.  Frequently, women’s partners and their communities are not fully informed about contraception, or do not support a woman’s rights to decide to use it.

Failing to address these barriers and to help those who want to use contraception and consistently access family planning services, without discrimination or coercion, carries a very high price in terms of women’s and children’s health and survival, and the prosperity of their families, communities and nations.

We need this summit to refocus priorities, energy, funding, policies, and support for family planning programs.  If all other elements of the health continuum are to work, from child survival to prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission, women must have the right and means to determine whether and when they will have children.

Learn more about the London Summit on Family Planning, and follow @USAIDGH on Twitter tomorrow at 10:30am EST for a live Twitter chat on USAID’s work in family planning.