In the past two months, we have seen a transformation in the family planning community. As the impact of COVID-19 rippled around the world, we saw how quickly the response to the pandemic could shut down access to family planning services. We know from prior experience with outbreaks like Ebola that critical health services will be disrupted, and it will hit the most vulnerable communities especially hard. We were proud to see the myriad of ways this global family planning partnership responded immediately, working with government, international, private sector, and civil society partners to create innovative solutions aimed at ensuring that women and girls continue to receive family planning care.
When the FP2020 Reference Group met by teleconference in March, the COVID-19 pandemic was at the forefront of our discussions. Family planning is an essential health service, and the need for it does not diminish in a crisis—even as obstacles to health care mount. Reference Group members reported that the pandemic was already causing tremendous disruption to family planning services, through broken supply chains, national stay-at-home orders, and treatment protocols that prevent women from accessing routine health care. According to the latest projections, some 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may be unable to use modern contraceptives if the lockdown carries on for six months and there are major disruptions to health services.
The FP2020 partnership is working together at global and country levels to ensure that family planning is part of countries’ COVID-19 response plans and that access to contraception is maintained.
The Secretariat has created a resource page on the FP2020 website to share tools and guidance on family planning in the pandemic, in line with the UN Secretary General’s COVID-19 response recommendations, and has launched a weekly COVID-19 community update. The Secretariat has also been hosting a series of discussions and webinars with advocacy, youth, and service delivery partners to facilitate the flow of information and resources.
While COVID-19 is consuming much of our attention, FP2020 continues to look ahead to its next iteration. The FP2020 Core Conveners and Secretariat will move ahead with efforts to lay a strong foundation for the next phase of this partnership, but the exact timing for a formal transition process will depend on how this situation unfolds over the next several months. The current Secretariat will continue to function normally until the new partnership architecture is in place, scheduled for early 2022. We will share information on the transition as it moves forward, but for now our focus is on ensuring access to contraception and services in every country.
We know that this community is strong, innovative, and tightly connected. The strength of our movement is in our commitment to rights, collaboration, and creative solutions, as you have demonstrated these past several weeks. We have faith that we will come through this crisis stronger, with new, more innovative approaches to family planning care that will have positive impacts on the lives of women and girls for years to come.
Chris Elias, President of Global Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA