New CSIS Report and Video: Family Planning and Linkages with U.S. Health and Development Goals

Janet Fleischman, Senior Associate, and Alisha Kramer, Program Manager
Global Health Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“Investing in family planning is investing in the future.” These words from Ethiopian health official, Dr. Tewodros Bekele, summarize key findings of a new CSIS video and report about family planning in Ethiopia.

The CSIS video is designed to bring the voices of Ethiopian women and girls as well as champions of family planning into the U.S. policy discussion. Through the voices of rural women, health extension workers, and an Orthodox priest, along with an official of the Ministry of Health and the First Lady, the video vividly highlights the importance of family planning as a core component of Ethiopia’s development.

EthiopiaEthiopia has attracted global attention for its leadership in advancing family planning. Contraceptive use rose from 15% in 2005 to 29% in 2011, due largely to the government’s ambitious Health Extension Program. The U.S. has made significant investments in Ethiopia’s health and development programs, and has been a critical partner in its achievements in family planning.

While Ethiopia’s progress has been considerable, there are also stark challenges. As the second-most populous country in Africa and with high levels of maternal mortality and extreme poverty, the imperative to increase access to women’s health services and to address the unmet need for family planning is urgent. These challenges are compounded by the government’s restrictions on civil society and the private sector, especially related to democracy and human rights.

The purpose of the CSIS visit was to examine the impact of family planning and its linkages with broader U.S. health and development goals. One of the aims of the trip was to clarify and illuminate the value of family planning through an in-country study of a dynamic national program. The delegation was composed of bipartisan staff from three congressional offices - Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA), and Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) - and from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Hope Through Healing Hands (founded by former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist).

The delegation’s findings underscore the importance of continuing U.S. global leadership in family planning.

The report calls on the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress to use upcoming opportunities in 2014 to demonstrate commitment to prioritizing family planning as integral to U.S. policy on health and development. These include:

• At the African Leaders Summit in August 2014, President Obama should ensure that women’s health and access to family planning are an explicit part of high-level discussions;

• Secretary of State John Kerry should elevate the importance of family planning for women’s and girls’ health and empowerment as part of U.S. diplomatic, development, and security strategies. This includes engaging with the African Union, publicly recognizing that family planning is an essential part of the response to gender-based violence and post-rape care; and supporting the inclusion of family planning targets and indicators in the post 2015 development agenda.

• Congress should prioritize resources for international family planning programs and for linkages between family planning and other health and development programs, such as maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, humanitarian responses, and food security.

Despite enduring challenges, Ethiopia has made measurable progress in advancing family planning. Through sustained effort and continued U.S. support, Ethiopia has the opportunity to expand the benefits of family planning to advance women’s and children’s health, and to reach broader development goals. As Dr. Tewodros put it: “family planning is beyond health…it is beyond a gender issue. In Ethiopia, we consider it as a fundamental rights issue.”