Monica Milando, a nurse at a health centre in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, is a brave woman. To make sure women visiting this centre could access the contraceptives that best suit their needs, she used to handwrite reports on available contraceptives and then ride her own bicycle—the only transportation means she could afford—to go and pick up the contraceptives by herself at the nearest main government office.
Not only was it a tiring trip for this 58-year-old woman, but she often travelled all the way to the main office just to find out that the contraceptives women wanted were not available.
As a result, the health centre where she has worked for 12 years used to experience regular stock-outs of their clients’ preferred contraceptives. Despite Monica’s efforts and dedication, many women in desperate need of these contraceptives felt discouraged and stopped visiting the health centre, leading to an increase in the number of unintended pregnancies in the area.
Monica’s health centre is far from being the only one in this situation. According to estimates, about one in five women in the developing world would like to use modern contraceptives but can’t access them. This number increases to about one in three women in East Africa. Common causes of this unmet need include the lack of access to methods that suit women’s needs.
To address this problem of availability of contraceptives, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supported an SMS-based system of contraceptive stock reporting in Kenya, designed to support better supplies and stocks of contraceptives through training, tracking, and information.
Thanks to this system, today, when her centre needs supplies, Monica simply sends a text via mobile phone to a central system, and contraceptives are delivered directly to her health centre. This simple technology made a huge contribution to ending stock-outs and bringing women back to the centre in even greater numbers than before.
Innovation is the key to improving access to family planning services and contraceptives. We must continue to look for creative solutions to the challenges that women and young people face each day, so that their reproductive health and rights are realized, and the number and spacing of children is no longer a matter of chance, but a result of planning.
That’s exactly what the partnership that UNFPA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently signed is all about. The two organizations have agreed to reinforce their cooperation to help increase access to voluntary family planning information, contraceptives and services in developing countries, particularly for young people.
This strengthened partnership will help expand access to a range of contraceptive methods, especially those that are new and underused. The focus will be on long-acting, reversible contraceptives, such as injectables and implants—which in Monica’s health centre, as in many others, are among the clients’ preferred methods.
UNFPA and the Gates Foundation will collaborate to develop and identify innovative approaches to allow for a wider choice of contraceptive methods and more availability in clinical and non-clinical settings.
This agreement draws on each organization’s strengths and expertise in support of the global goal of expanding access to high-quality, voluntary family planning supplies and services for an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s 69 poorest countries by 2020.
The benefits of giving access to voluntary family planning services and contraceptive choices extend beyond determining the number and spacing of births for countless women. Delaying childbirth increases the chances of young women staying in school, improves maternal and newborn health, and advances overall life prospects, including social and political participation and economic opportunities.
We are excited about this partnership, which we believe can make a difference in the lives of millions of young people, especially young women and girls.