The 3rd International Family Planning Conference (ICFP) opened today in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with 3,000 in attendance from over 120 countries celebrating the theme of “Full Access/Full Choice”. Musicians and dancers opened up the meeting, held at the African Union building under high security. All the guests held up signs saying “We are family planning” after hearing the inspiring story of how family planning has saved many couples’ lives.
The historic gathering is the largest of the past two conferences held in Kampala, Uganda and Dakar, Senegal, with an impressive youth contingent of over 350 delegates.
A stellar list of heads of states were in attendance or making statement via video about their nation’s commitments to family planning. Countries included Ethiopia, whose Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalyn delivered the keynote speech, pledging to get another 11 million women on family planning services. Ethiopia has been a success story when it comes to family planning services , largely due to its 38,000 strong development “army”—the Health Extension Worker program, which provides services in (kebelles) villages across Ethiopia.
The Prime Ministers of Malawi (Joyce Banda) and Thailand (Yingluck Shinawatra) spoke about their countries’ successes in family planning and continuing commitment. US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US commitment to universal access to family planning and reproductive health services by 2015 and urged for continued investment in UNFPA, the UN’s population fund. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, gave a passionate speech and congratulated Ethiopia for its recent milestone of achieving its commitments on child survival under Millennium Goal 4 and commented on Laos’ and Haiti’s dramatic increases in contraceptive prevalence rates. “Africa is growing fast. We can’t grow without investing in education, skills development for youth so they can be who they want to be and exercise their rights. Let us stop teenage pregnancies and teenage marriages- we can do it.” Dr. Osotimehin also cited three opportunities for the post-2015 development framework, including a youth goal, a gender goal, and universal health coverage with family planning included. It was interesting to note that the youth and gender goals got applause from the audience, but the UHC goal did not.
Dr. Zuma, AU Commissioner, said how important it is that the conference is taking place in the AU building. “Without family planning, Africa can’t reach its full potential. Family planning is critical.”
A surprising gap in the entire opening ceremony was a lack of acknowledgement of the devastating typhoon in the Philippines. The Philippines has been a leader on family planning and reproductive health, with landmark laws passed earlier this year. Their presence in this gathering will be missed.