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Family-Planning Campaign to Aid Millions in World's Poorest Countries

  • Selah Hennessy

A person holds an umbrella with colored condoms in London, September 18, 2010

A person holds an umbrella with colored condoms in London, September 18, 2010

LONDON — International health organizations launched a new campaign Wednesday to offer advice about contraception to women in the world's poorest countries. Their conference in London was organized by Britain's Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a U.S. charity.

The Margaret Pyke Center is a sexual health clinic in central London that offers provides everything residents need for family planning.

Patients can pick up a variety of contraception devices, take pregnancy tests, receive abortion referrals and get advice from health workers.

It’s offered free by Britain's National Health Service.

Sharna Reeves says that makes her life a whole lot easier. "As a busy working girl in London, it's great to have a clinic within the NHS that I can just walk into. I don't have to make an appointment. I can get all the advice that I need on the spot and get the treatment that I need," she explained. "It's like a one-stop shop. It's great."

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Nurse Alison White says providing sexual guidance is not always easy in a cosmopolitan city like London. "What we have to make sure is that we are meeting the local population's needs. So it's thinking about things, as in, there are some cultures that do not openly talk about sex that wouldn't actually attend the services. So it may mean that we have to actually go out to them," she said. "Rather than them coming to us. Or we have to think of innovative ways of actually penetrating that population."

If providing the right contraception advice is difficult in London, it can be even more difficult in some of the world's poorest countries.

But with high maternal and infant mortality rates, these are also the countries in the most need, according to the new campaign launched in Britain, which hopes to provide family planning services for 120 million women within eight years.

Gary Darmstadt from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says that aim should be a cornerstone of the global agenda. "Between now and 2020 we can save 200,000 lives of women. We can prevent three million deaths of infants. We can prevent 50 million abortions and about 100 million unintended pregnancies - incredibly important for health," he noted.

The Gates Foundation says around 60 million unwanted pregnancies take place in developing countries every year. Family planning would give women more control over their own lives.

But Rajat Khosla of Amnesty International warns that providing contraception devices is only half the battle. "Flooding the market with commodities would not get us where we want to be in terms of meeting the unmet need for family planning. What we need to bring together is a focus on women's empowerment," said Khosla. "For them to be able to make the choice about their sexual and reproductive health."

Making contraception services available is important for female and infant health, he says. But making sure all women have access to them will be a more difficult road to navigate.
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