Margaret Pollack, Director for Multilateral Coordination and External Relations and Senior Advisor on Population Issues; Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; U.S. Department of State
Remarks at Commission on Population and Development (CPD) Side Event Sponsored by the UN Foundation and USAID
New York, NY
April 13, 2011

It is a pleasure to be with you this afternoon and to be invited to speak with such thoughtful people whose expertise can help us proactively chart a course for success in meeting the ICPD and related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I’d like to thank Tim Wirth [or Tamara Kreinen] and the United Nations Foundation for making this opportunity possible.

The issues we are discussing this year at the Commission on Population and Development – fertility, reproductive health, and development – are as important and nuanced today as they were 17 years ago. Perhaps even more so. Both the Cairo Program of Action and MDG 5b call for universal access to reproductive health by 2015. The vision is good; the reality is that we’ve got a long way to go to get there.

Cairo gave us the framework for moving forward. It was reinforced last year by the UN Secretary General’s Joint Plan of Action for Women’s and Children’s Health, which underscored what we know: there is a direct connection between a woman’s ability to plan her family, space her pregnancies, and give birth safely, and her ability to get an education, work outside the home, support her family, and participate fully in the life of her community.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agrees. When she released the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), a study by the Department of State that analyzes the short-, medium-, and long-term blueprint for the United States' diplomatic and development efforts abroad, she affirmed that the U.S. government will “more strongly embed family planning in our health agenda, because we also think it’s an economic issue, and it’s an empowerment issue, and it’s an issue that cuts across much of what we do in development work.”

This strong commitment is coming at a crucial time. Taking into account that world population will reach 7 billion within the year, the demand for family planning in the developing world could rise from the current 818 million to 933 million women and the number of family planning users could increase from 603 million to 709 million.

An increase of 106 million users is substantial – equivalent to almost half the level of current unmet need. The anticipated increase in demand between now and 2015 could still leave roughly 224 million women with an unmet need for modern contraception.

Clearly greater efforts are required. I’m happy to note that many countries and donors have stepped forward to help women achieve their goals for their children, their lives and their health. Recently the French Government pledged 100 million euros to strengthen family planning in West Africa; the German Government and the European Union have substantively increased funding lines for family planning; and numerous other countries, even those facing dire economic crises, have remained firm in their commitments to women and girls.

As the largest bi-lateral donor of reproductive and maternal health assistance, the U.S. has helped the women and families in the developing world to gain awareness of and access to modern methods of contraception, allowing couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children.

The Obama Administration, from the beginning, has championed this effort. Every year, the President has requested increased funding for family planning, raising it to historic levels in order to sustain the progress achieved through past investments and to build upon this foundation to meet the increasing demand for family planning. The Administration’s strong financial commitment for family planning will help reduce the estimated 52 million unintended pregnancies and 22 million abortions that take place each year.

The President issued the first policy directive on U.S. global development – elevating development – and with it, global health – as a pillar of U.S. foreign policy, along with diplomacy and defense. This directive firmly places health as a highly valued and visible investment that has the power to save lives and play a vital role in the U.S. development agenda.

He shepherded the Global Health Initiative, a whole-of-government effort that will see the United States working with 80 partner countries to improve health outcomes, with a particular focus on women, girls, and gender equality, encouraging country ownership, and investing in country-led plans and health systems. A core belief of the United States government is that country ownership and local investment is crucial. Our investments in global health, including reproductive health, are designed to allow local governments, civil societies and private sectors to take over responsibility for providing health services.

The GHI Strategy and its compendium Guidance for GHI Country Strategies were released this past February, providing a clear framework for this Initiative – including the vision, approach, operational plan, targets, and outcomes – which will serve as the guide for the host countries and the interagency health teams they will work with to develop, implement, and report on GHI Country Strategies.

Under the GHI is the new USAID initiative called BEST, short for Best Practices at Scale in the Home, Community, and Facilities. As its name indicates, the effort will scale up proven best practices and reaffirms the U.S. government’s commitment to family planning, maternal and child health, and nutrition. It will contribute to the GHI goals of:

  • Preventing 54 million unintended pregnancies
  • Reducing maternal mortality by 30 percent
  • Reducing under-five child mortality by 35 percent
  • Decreasing child undernutrition by 30 percent, in conjunction with the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future food security initiative.

Last September, the President personally endorsed the Secretary General’s Global Strategy on Women and Children’s Health, underscoring the U.S. commitment to investing in women and girls to meet the MDGs.

During last fall’s event to launch this Strategy, USAID, the U.K.’s Department for International Development, the Australian Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new partnership: the Alliance for Reproductive, Maternal and Neonatal Health. This Alliance will see donors and country partners working closely to contribute to the goal of access to modern contraception by 100 million women with unmet need by 2015. The Alliance is focusing on ten high-need countries in Africa and Asia in the first year, and will expand to additional countries in subsequent years

In February, West African leaders in politics and civil society met in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to create a plan of action to improve family planning and maternal health in that region. This conference, “Population, Development and Family Planning in Francophone West Africa: the Urgency to Act,” was organized by the U.S. and French Governments with assistance from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. But the decisions and plans for action came directly from country delegations from Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. The conference’s success was assured by the French Government’s commitment of 100 million euro to support the initiative and led to the formation of the Ouagadougou Cooperation. Countries are developing their action plans – and a follow-up conference for civil-society partners working in population and family planning is being organized as well as a reunion meeting of the countries at the international conference on family planning to be held in Dakar, Senegal in late 2011.

Another new partnership was launched early this year that aims to dramatically reduce maternal and newborn deaths around the world. Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development is a partnership between USAID, the Government of Norway, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank. Over five years, the partners will invest in groundbreaking and sustainable projects to improve the lives of pregnant women and their newborns in the hardest-to-reach corners of the world.

In sum, this is how the U.S. Government is working with country partners to meet the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These initiatives further the U.S. Government’s – through USAID – four decades of comprehensive family planning programming that supports voluntary family planning and related health services in more than 60 countries, as well as the important work done by the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, the United States Peace Corps, and U.S. government actors.

Within our foreign assistance framework, improving the health of people in the developing world is one of the most powerful investments that the U.S. government can make in improving people’s lives overseas. Investing in women and girls is key to our development strategy and can lead to game changing outcomes over the next generation.

Thank you very much.