Universal Health Coverage: Not without family planning

As the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the US and much of the western world, fraying health care systems and inequitable distribution of testing and vaccines have pushed the concept of universal health coverage (UHC) to the forefront of discussions where previously it has been an afterthought. For those who have worked globally on family planning, it is a reminder that the dream of universal health care is important no matter where you live and no matter what your health care needs are.

UHC characterizes an ideal where all people have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. In the same way that the long-term consequences of the pandemic will place a heavy burden on health systems, so too will the lack of reproductive health care. Currently 270 million women worldwide do not have access to modern contraception, a reminder that we are far from realizing the dream of universal health coverage.

“There is a misconception in the UHC world that it is about immediate life-saving interventions,” says Dr. Victor Igharo, Chief of Party, The Challenge Initiative, Nigeria. “Family planning, unfortunately, risks being left out of the agenda as its effects are long term.” Dr. Diana Nambatya Nsubuga agrees. She is the UHC Co-Chair in Africa and Regional Deputy Director, Policy and Advocacy at Living Goods. She asks, “If universal health coverage is about leaving no one behind, how can we achieve this if the unmet need for family planning is so high in Africa and other parts of the world?”

Collaborate to Address the Unmet Need for Family Planning

Collaboration and partnerships hold the key to addressing family planning within the larger scope of UHC. For example, FP2020 is a partnership that harnesses the potential of donors, UN agencies, NGOs, governments, civil society, and advocates – including youth – at global and country levels. Indonesia, for example, allocated $458 million in 2019 for family planning—an 80% increase from 2017—thanks to the collaboration fostered through FP2020. Indonesia has also included family planning in its national health scheme in the form of postpartum and postabortion services, and engaged the private sector to work in tandem with its efforts.