Why I Work on Family Planning and Reproductive Health: Reflections on World Population Day

Why I Work on Family Planning and Reproductive Health: Reflections on World Population Day

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman}Photo credit: Warren Zelman

My family’s story exemplifies how access to reproductive health and family planning in a low-income country can have tremendous economic and life-transforming impact for young people and a whole generation—beyond the reduction in fertility and improvements in health.

My parents got married in the 60s, at a time when Profamilia, The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) affiliate in Colombia, was pioneering the country’s path through successful demographic transition. My father, the youngest child of a family of nine, and my mother, the oldest of seven, never went to college. Instead, they worked through their teen years, struggling to help their families.

My mother (influenced by distant women relatives who were educated) had made up her mind to give her children the education she never had. She convinced my father (in spite of the macho, progenitive culture) that the only way to pursue their dreams was to secure a way out of poverty through hard work—and a small family. Sure enough, I, their oldest child, was the first one in the 70-plus extended family to graduate from college and medical school. My two sisters continue to benefit from the education they received.

Today, World Population Day, we mark the one-year anniversary of the London Summit and the launch of the FP2020 initiative. While global momentum for voluntary family planning and reproductive health is growing, over 200-million females—many whom are adolescents—still have an unmet need. Some 75-million women in low- and middle-income countries have unintended pregnancies; 20-million women will have unsafe abortions. Adolescents are at increased risk for child-bearing and HIV infection; ninety percent of pregnant adolescents in low-income countries are married.

We can meet the unmet need for quality family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) services through innovative public/private partnerships and high impact, evidence-based interventions, such as through integrating FP/RH with adolescent health and maternal, newborn, and child health services and HIV services, implementing community-based FP, encouraging healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy, and by ensuring contraceptive security.

MSH has over 40 years of experience bringing health services to people where they live and bolstering the capacity of local partners to dramatically expand community-based care, especially key maternal, neonatal, child health, adolescent, and family planning services. MSH has been actively engaged in helping end—and mitigating the implications of—child marriage, such as through promoting equal access to health care for women and girls in more than 135 countries for over four decades.

When I reflect on the long path I’ve traveled—as a boy from a typically poor family in Bogota progressing through the education system to getting a medical degree and later earning scholarships to get an MPH—I can’t help but think how the informed reproductive health decisions of a young couple had such an incredible effect on breaking the excruciating vicious cycle of poverty. Choosing to have a small family—and having access to quality family planning services and information—can lead to a multitude of positive effects for people’s health, education, and economic safety.

As we commemorate World Population Day, let us renew our commitment to family planning and reproductive health.

Fabio Castaño, MD, MPH, is global technical lead on family planning and reproductive health at MSH.