Contraception pledge for 120 million of poorest women

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Governments and donor groups have pledged to provide access to family planning services to an additional 120 million women in many of the poorest countries by 2020.

The promise was made at the London Family Planning Summit, which was co-hosted by the UK government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up by the Microsoft boss and his wife to improve global healthcare and tackle extreme poverty.

woman being handed contraceptive pills 220 million women have no access to contraception

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said giving women the freedom to choose when and how many children they had was "fundamental" to tackling global poverty.

Speaking to health leaders, Mr Cameron said: "A country cannot develop properly when its young women are dying from unintended pregnancy and when its children are dying in infancy."

Both the UK government and the Gates Foundation have pledged to double their aid to family planning over the next eight years.

The British commitment will rise from £90m to £180m ($140m to$280m). In total, governments and charitable organisations promised nearly £3bn by 2020.

At present 220 million women do not have access to contraception or family planning services. It is estimated that a woman dies from pregnancy-related complications every two minutes.

The summit's organisers say the cumulative impact of the pledges by 2020 could be 200,000 fewer maternal deaths, 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly three million fewer babies dying in the first year of life.

Melinda Gates said: "When I travel and talk to women around the world they tell me that access to contraceptives can often be the difference between life and death.

"Today is about listening to their voices, about meeting their aspirations, and giving them the power to create a better life for themselves and their families."

Empowerment

Save the Children said child marriage was a key issue that needed to be addressed. It estimates that more than one in 10 girls is married before the age of 15.

Justin Forsyth, the charity's chief executive, said: "The summit has put family planning firmly onto the international agenda. It's an issue that has been long neglected, so it's a welcome surprise that so many substantial pledges were made today."

Many of the speakers at the summit stressed that the issue was far more complex than simply making condoms or other contraceptives available.

Education and women's empowerment were key themes. Research has shown that the longer girls spend in education, the later they are likely to start a family and the more likely they are to be lifted out of poverty.

Population control

Many of the countries which will benefit from the aid have rapidly growing populations. Last year the global population total reached 7bn and it is estimated to reach 8bn by 2025.

But the summit organisers stressed this was not rich countries telling poor ones what to do.

Mr Cameron said: "We're not talking about some kind of Western imposed population control, forced abortion or sterilisation. We're giving women and girls the power to decide for themselves."

Melinda Gates: "You have to educate a woman about her contraceptive choices"

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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