12 Nov 2018


This week, 4,000 people have travelled to Kigali for the fifth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP). This year’s ICFP is especially significant: we are witnessing the largest adolescent population ever, growing fastest in places where access to contraception is most challenging. Currently, 214 million girls and women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but are not using contraception. In too many countries, their right to sexual and reproductive health is coming under attack.

We will have our largest and most senior presence, with CIFF colleagues joining from across our teams in Nairobi, Delhi and London. There we will champion the work of our grantees and build new partnerships ranging from youth leadership, to scaling contraceptive services for adolescents, to breaking down siloes through the integration of safe abortion.

Above all, our focus for the conference is to support momentum around self-care in sexual and reproductive health.

Self-care in health is not new or uncommon, nor should it be restricted by age, gender, wealth or location. It is fundamentally about power; for individuals to unlock choice and take control of their health. It is potentially transformative for youth who frequently face discrimination, stigma and bias when it comes to sexual health.

For years women have been practising self-care for their reproductive health. Women accessing safe abortion through medical abortion pills has saved countless lives. The same momentum is growing around HIV/STIs, where self-testing, self-screening and user-controlled prevention tools have the potential to radically change both prevention and treatment of the epidemic.

In family planning, progress has been more incremental, with concerns about whether self-care limits choice or quality of care. Yet the potential to address unmet need is huge. Contraceptive self-injection is perhaps our most important near-term opportunity, with dozens of countries supportive and growing evidence demonstrating feasibility, cost-effectiveness and impact. Nevertheless access is still limited, meaning very few women actually get to decide for themselves.

Through self-care we can leverage technology so individuals’ unique needs are catered for, break the siloes in our sector by putting more control in the hands of users, and generate efficiency amongst providers, increasing accountability, responsiveness and diversity.

One day it will seem bizarre that hundreds of millions of girls and women faced such a vast, unmet need for contraception. Self-care means putting power in the hands of girls and women; doing so will accelerate universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Synapse growth chart

Miles Kemplay, Executive Director, Adolescence

Miles Kemplay is Executive Director, Adolescence, having led CIFF’s work on adolescent sexual and reproductive health as Director since 2016.