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Family Planning Summit Will Save 3 Million Children's Lives by 2020

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Courtesy of the United Nations

For most of us, a new baby coming into the family is ample reason for joy and celebration. But imagine a world where a new pregnancy means having to choose which beloved child to feed, clothe, or provide medicine to. Because of the $2.6 billion raised in the "London Summit on Family Planning," millions of mothers and their children will be spared that heartbreak.

For 220 million women worldwide who want -- but do not have access to -- contraception,
that Sophie's Choice dilemma is their biggest fear. Another child can put them at a "life-or-death" tipping point in which one or more of their children will die from lack of nutrition or medicine. This is not hyperbole, but a daily fact of life for millions of people worldwide.

Some 7.6 million children under the age of 5 died needlessly in 2010 from malnutrition and other preventable afflictions such as malaria, polio and diarrhea, reports Cathy Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation. Providing young children with simple, proven interventions -- food, vitamins, vaccines, mosquito nets, oral rehydration therapy and antibiotics -- dramatically increases their chances of survival. But because these crucial commodities are limited in the hardest hit areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia due to drought, poverty, sub-par medical treatment, or corrupt governments, the lack of access to family planning can be a death sentence for many children and their mothers.

Under such dire conditions, the women and girls giving birth face astoundingly high mortality rates themselves, especially in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Just this week, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study published in the Lancet, reported that current contraceptive use likely prevents 272,000 maternal deaths yearly and providing contraceptives to all women who desire them could reduce maternal deaths by an additional 30 percent.

To send an urgent call to action worldwide around this chronic situation, the U.K. Government's Department for International Development (UK Aid) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hosted the "London Summit on Family Planning." Building on the work of the "UN Foundation's Universal Access Project" and "United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)," the Summit assembled and secured commitments from governments, civil society, and the private-sector of more than $2.6 billion, providing 120 million women in developing nations access to voluntary, lifesaving family planning information and services by 2020. Noteworthy pledges were $800 million from the U.K. government, $560 million from the Gates Foundation, $378 million from the UNFPA, $200 million from Norway, $160 million from the Netherlands, and more than $100 million from both France and Germany. (Note: the United States did not pledge additional money, but has committed $640 million over the next eight years.)

By 2020, the Summit's financial commitments are estimated to result in nearly 3 million fewer children dying in their first year of life, 200,000 fewer women and girls dying in pregnancy and childbirth, 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, and 50 million fewer abortions.

So access to family planning will save lives for the short-term and ensure that there are enough resources for a given population for the long-term. Those children who will live to the critical age of five will now have a greater chance of ongoing access to nutrition and health care, not to mention education and employment. Family planning means children not only can survive, but also thrive.

The U.K .Secretary of State for International development, Andrew Mitchell said,

This is a breakthrough for the world's poorest girls and women, which will transform lives, now and for generations to come. Enabling an additional 120 million women in the world's poorest countries to access and use contraception, something women in the developed world take for granted, will save millions of lives and enable girls and women to determine their own futures.

The old adage, "Mothers are like glue. Even when you can't see them, they're holding the family together," is apropos. It speaks to how universally women are the heart of both family and community health, education, and often economics. Empowering women -- in the developing and developed world -- with the opportunity to choose a sustainable future is morally right, as well as environmentally and economically sound.

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You can pledge your support here for women's family planning rights. To see the Family Planning Summit discussion, check out Twitter at #FPChat or #FPSummit.

Anne Zeiser worked with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on PBS's groundbreaking 2005 global health and child survival transmedia and impact project, Rx for Survival: A Global Health Challenge, with partners NPR, Time, Penguin books, CARE, Save The Children, UNICEF, The Global Health Council, GAVI, American Academy of Pediatrics, Girls Scouts of America, Rotary International, and more.