This originally appeared on The Huffington Post Blog.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your work really makes a difference. Three months after the London Summit on Family Planning, I led a delegation of UNFPA supporters to Ghana. We saw a diverse and inspiring range of maternal health programs — from government hospitals to an entrepreneurial midwife who designed and produced birthing stools with the help of a local carpenter.
In Tamale, we visited a brand new Marie Stopes clinic fully stocked with a range of modern contraceptive methods. It was located in the heart of the city, at a vibrant, open air market that stands at the crossroads of three ancient trade routes. For the women and men who work there, the clinic could not be more convenient — they could easily dash off for an appointment or for supplies.
Ghana woman at USAID health event. Photo credit: USAID
From there we flew north to Bolgatanga, then traveled by bus towards the border with Burkina Faso. As we drove, the tarmac gave way to unpaved roads. Cracks became grooves, and grooves became ditches. As the hours passed, the villages became smaller and the distance between them grew. Wherever we were headed, it felt worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Tamale.
Finally we arrived at our destination: a plain, L-shaped building in a small compound. It was a Planned Parenthood of Ghana clinic that provides an integrated mix of family planning and other health education and services.
Despite its remoteness, we were greeted with as much enthusiasm and excitement as we felt in Tamale. About 200 people — village elders, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, children — had come out to show support for their clinic. They told us about the difference the clinic was making in their lives. In this isolated location, it was their only source of medical care.
But as we toured the facility, I happened to notice one person who wasn’t taking part in the excitement. Her name was Afia, and she sat very quietly, in a corner, on a hard wooden bench. A midwife was by her side.
Afia’s face was etched in pain, but her cries were muted. With quiet dignity, and few of the trappings that attend births in countries like my own, I found out she was in labor to deliver her first child.
As a mother myself, I knew how scared she must have felt. I also knew that in Ghana, for every 100,000 women who go into labor, 350 die giving birth or because of pregnancy-related complications. The statistics can be numbing.
Afia remained on my mind and two days later, I learned she had a lovely baby girl, and both mother and child were happy and most importantly, healthy.
I know that in the coming months and years, the clinic will help Afia keep herself and her baby healthy, and will give her the contraceptives she needs to plan her family and her future.
Our work does make a difference. This is what Family Planning 2020 is all about: reaching women, no matter where they live, with the information, services and supplies they need. Program by program, clinic by clinic, and woman by woman.
One year after the London Summit on Family Planning, I am pleased to report that FP2020 continues to build the foundations of a global movement and is accelerating progress towards achieving our goal of reaching an additional 120 million women with lifesaving contraceptive information, services and supplies by 2020.
Countries are championing the cause — over twenty governments have already made commitments and a few more are gearing up to do so. National, costed family planning plans are being drafted and implemented, new health laws are being passed and service delivery barriers are being addressed. Price-reduction agreements on long-acting, reversible contraceptive implants and the scale-up in delivery of discreet, injectable contraceptives ensures that millions of women will be able to access a range of family planning methods. We’ve improved relations with allies, built and strengthened new partnerships, and established our global governance framework. I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together.
And yet, I remain acutely aware that the work of FP2020 has only just begun. We have so much more to do to ensure that family planning remains front and center on the global development agenda. This will require even stronger international partnerships to uphold and guard the unified aspirations of millions of women and girls to chart their own future.
Women like Afia are depending on us to keep the promises we made one year ago at the London Summit. As we move forward into the second year of FP2020, I am convinced and confident that working together, we shall.