How much would we save if everyone had the freedom and options that access to family planning brings?
Well, to give you a concrete example, according to the Centre of Economic and Business Research (CEBR), the average parent in the UK spends £230,000 from birth to age 21 to raise a child. That includes childcare costs, nappies, food, clothes, toys and many other essentials.
The CEBR’s estimated spend obviously varies from one country to another, depending on countries’ economic structure and levels of poverty. But there’s one thing that’s constant when parents don’t have the necessary financial resources: poverty. That’s something we can all understand, no matter the continent or country we live in.
Decades of research has shown that when people can prevent pregnancies and plan and space births there are many benefits – including:
- a reduction in the risk of mortality associated with pregnancy and childbirth
- poverty alleviation
- more investment in their children’s health and well-being.
Highlighting the extensive and far-reaching social and economic dividends that family planning investments can yield was the theme Investing for a lifetime of returns – the 5th International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP 2018). It set out in simple terms why investment in family planning is the best buy a country can make in its future.
After an inspiring and thought-provoking opening plenary, the one question I repeatedly asked myself for two days was: how can civil society organisations (CSOs) influence greater national investment in family planning?
On the third day of ICFP 2018 I found a session on family planning policy, financing and accountability, which brought that question to life. A discussion about the Global Financing Facility (GFF) stimulated even more thoughts and ideas to go with the barrage of questions I already had.
The GFF seeks to contribute to global efforts to end preventable deaths of women, adolescents, children and newborns. It struck me as an important investment opportunity that CSOs can leverage to help countries improve access to family planning. In other words, with strong CSOs engagement in countries investment cases the GFF can be a source of additional funding for family planning.
But when it came to questions and answers for this session, the challenges CSOs and countries are facing with the GFF became clear. The main issue I noted is that many CSOs and governments don’t fully understand the GFF mechanism in their country.
Someone asked, “How can the GFF help in creating an enabling environment for CSOs’ effective engagement and participation in national investment cases for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) and the different stages of implementation?” The responses made clear that, at the national level, the GFF’s engagement with CSOs varies considerably. In many cases, the process for developing a national investment framework in RMNCAH isn’t clear or isn’t shared with CSOs, and there are limited tools and resources available to support them. CSOs’ capacities have not been fully harnessed.
But there are ways forward – as discussions at the conference highlighted. Government officials from Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria outlined key lessons to empower CSOs to really engage and participate in countries’ investment cases for RMNCAH (including family planning) and in setting priority areas. They said that CSOs should:
- present themselves with a unified voice as trusted allies for development
- understand countries’ key GFF documents (eg, concept note, business case) and their specific GFF processes, such as investment phases for RMNCAH and what each of the priority intervention phases entails
- align work plans to key GFF documents and national priority areas to support the government to implement the RMNCAH investment case.
Out of all the GFF discussions, one thing remains clear to me: CSOs are important to the partnership model of the GFF.
The GFF is replenished and expanding to more eligible countries. If we can now strengthen our capacities, we’ll be in a better place to influence our national GFF platform – and to ensure that investment in family planning is a national priority.