ICFP 2013—Like Going Back to School

This post originally appeared on the SHOPS website a href=”http://www.shopsproject.org/about/highlights/blog-private-sector-perspectives-in-family-planning” target=”_blank”>here. Reposted with permission.

Jay Gribble, Family Planning and Reproductive Health Advisor, SHOPS Project/Abt Associates

As thousands gather in Addis to discuss family planning, I flew from Washington feeling like a kid on the school bus returning to classes for the first day after summer vacation. Seeing friends and colleagues converge was exciting—catching up on what’s been going on, how work is going, and what we expect of the conference ahead of us. Knowing that we are all focused on the same set of goals—improving access to family planning—but recognizing that each of us makes our own unique contribution really reminds me of heading back to school. For just as we study different subjects to become well educated, well-rounded individuals, for family planning efforts to succeed, we need to pay attention to the many aspects that are necessary to make programs thrive.

For many years, I’ve been involved with policy work, and it continues to be a critical aspect of advancing family planning—from the establishment of laws and policies that guarantee access to services, to policies that allow task shifting to be possible, even down to the operational policies that ensure that vehicles work and have gasoline. The policy environment sets a tone for program efforts, and I hope that the high-level meeting goes a long way in advancing family planning and reproductive health with the finance, planning, and health sector leaders attending it.

There wouldn’t be family planning without service delivery programs. Increasingly, programs areICFP school bus thinking outside the box and developing new approaches to getting family planning information and services to people who want it. Whether through mobile facilities, vouchers, or new counseling strategies, services are at the heart family planning. And while integrating family planning into other types of services has been a long-standing way to expanding access to family planning and reproductive health services, the approaches being taken reflect new thinking and show promising advances.

Closely related to services are the efforts to build the capacity of providers to provide high-quality services. Whether talking about community health workers, midwives, physicians or any other cadre of provider, the importance of focusing attention on the people who have one-on-one contact with clients cannot be underestimated—they need to know about the most current methods and approaches, as well as how to deal with clients in an open, unbiased way that responds to the clients’ needs.

And to get services right, we need research. We continue to learn that when it comes to talking about reproductive health, we have to take into account the cultural context. The approaches and messages that work in one place may not work in another. Without carrying out research to understand both the social and cultural practices, as well as the best ways to provide services, we lessen the effectiveness of our efforts.

During the next few days, I look forward to learning about what is going on in our field. Kind of like back in school, where we all had our best—or at least our favorite—subjects, being at ICFP 2013 gives us the chance to get updated on many of the aspects of family planning and reproductive health. So to all of us here in Addis, I hope we learn a lot of new information—and also make the most of recess and lunch!