Regional Meeting to Strengthen Capacity in new WHO family planning guidelines: Towards universal reproductive health coverage in the SDGs era

17-19 April 2017, New Delhi, India

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to this very important meeting.

Strong and healthy families are the cornerstone of strong and healthy communities. They are the social unit preceding all others, and a powerful force for raising the health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and countries.

But like all social institutions, they benefit from effective planning.

As you know, family planning is a formidable tool to drive down maternal and child mortality, empower women to avoid unintended pregnancies, and advance women’s social and economic autonomy.

As outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, family planning services must be available to all women everywhere. The benefits are clear.

It is estimated that universal access to quality family planning services would decrease unintended pregnancies by 70%. Maternal deaths would drop by an estimated 67%, while newborn deaths would decline by 77%. At the same time, pregnancy and delivery-related disability among women and newborns would decrease by two-thirds.

Making this happen is central to WHO’s focus and drive. This is especially so in the SDG era, where universal health coverage – including access to family planning – provides the framework for all that we do.

Though we still have some way to go, family planning has been a feature of reproductive and child health programmes in the Region for many years. Indeed, in many parts of the Region contraceptive use – much like vaccination – has become a routine health behavior. Family planning programmes can be credited for making it so.

They can also be credited for the substantial progress we’ve made.

Between 1990 and 2015 the Region achieved a 69% reduction in maternal mortality – the highest among WHO regions. The contraceptive prevalence rate has meanwhile improved from 46% in 2000 to 60% in 2015. At the same time, the total fertility rate in the Region dropped from three to 2.4 children per woman – the most significant change among all WHO regions.

Despite these impressive advances, progress has been uneven. The unmet need for family planning, for example, remains high, especially among adolescents and young people. And at just 60%, the Region’s contraceptive prevalence rate is one of the lowest among WHO regions.

Of significant concern is the fact that in four of the Region’s countries the adolescent birth rate is more than 50 per 1000 women aged 15-19 years. Around 6 million girls aged 15-19 years give birth each year in our Region, mostly within marriage. Nearly half of these pregnancies are unintended.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Sustainable Development Agenda provides a compelling opportunity to strengthen family planning programmes.

As you know, these programmes are supported by targets under SDGs 3 and 5. The UN Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health has reinforced the primacy of family planning within the Agenda, and has already attracted over USD 25 billion in commitments.

As we gather today we must capitalize on this momentum. We look forward to familiarizing each of you with the new WHO family planning guidelines, with specific attention on how they can be adapted to your needs.

Before we proceed, however, I wish to emphasize four points that are fundamental to achieving our goals.

First, we must ensure improved access to contraceptives to all women of reproductive age, including adolescents. Ongoing barriers to access – whether related to age, geography or any other factor – must be identified and remedied. As the SDGs outline, no one can be left behind.

Second, we must ensure women can access a range of contraceptive options, and that they are empowered to make evidence-based choices. Women must be provided the means to fulfill their family planning objectives, and must be able to do so with full confidence in the decisions they are making.

Third, we must ensure higher quality of family planning services. This means investing in and enhancing the skills of service providers, both technically and in terms of their approach to patients. It also means widening the scope of services available.

And fourth, we must ensure progress is monitored closely. Access to high quality information provides policymakers the means to adjust policy where necessary. And it also provides the evidence needed to pursue more targeted interventions where appropriate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

WHO is committed to supporting your efforts.

As many of you are aware, In December 2015 I convened the SEAR-Technical Advisory Group of global and regional experts. Ever since, the Advisory Group has provided guidance to national governments, implementing partners and other stakeholders across the Region. I am glad that some Advisory Group members are in attendance today.

As many of you will also know, the Regional Summit of the H6 Partners, which includes WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, UN WOMEN, UNAIDS and World Bank, has now operationalized its mandate, and is harmonizing technical support to the Region’s Member States. I am glad that many of these partners are here to actualize our commitment to provide collective support to Member States.

Distinguished participants,

Our collective vision of a Region where family planning and reproductive health services are available to all is inspiring. As I mentioned at the outset, making this happen will strengthen communities and accelerate development. It will also advance the enjoyment of basic human rights.

But unless our vision is supported by evidence-based standards, guidelines and tools, it will be left unfulfilled.

Today I am proud to present you the latest iteration of these tools. Through our joint engagement and commitment I am certain that we will harness and apply them as efficiently as possible, and in doing so advance the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents across our Region.

I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to WHO HQ for their support, especially with regards to the umbrella project. I also wish to reiterate my warmest welcome to you all, including representatives of Member States, UN partner agencies, professional associations, academia, experts and TAG members.

I wish you a successful and productive meeting and a comfortable stay in New Delhi.

Thank You.