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.



Sallie Craig Huber
Nice story, Fabio. Thanks for sharing it. Your points are as valid today as they were in 1972-73 when I assisted with the first global study of unmet needs in family planning for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and as affirmed last year by the London Summit and the launch of FP2020 initiative. Keep up the good work that MSH has done and continues to do in this arena. Happy World Population Day to all!
Fabio Castaño
Dear Sallie, thank you. It is great to see your comment. Despite the "lost years" in the 90's, champions like you and Douglas helped reposition family planning, and surely contributed with so many others to a very promising FP2020! MSH is committed more than ever to continue supporting women's rights to reproductive health and family planning.
Dr. C. Nagaraj
Population has to be managed effectively and continuously to balance with the available resources, but keeping in view of the future needs of the progeny of the future. The theme is very well thought off giving lot of introspection among all of us working i ht e field of Family Welfare and Maternal and child health. Care of the mother is most important and that is the only return gift the humanity could give to this special character who not only created all of us but gave her entire life for care and share not looking back on her own life - a great sacrifice.
Fabio Castaño
Dear Dr. C. Nagaraj, Thank you for your comment. I received several comments about how many of us working on FP/RH and maternal health share similar personal stories of our commitment with this field. "Introspection," as you call it, is essential in public health.
Jane Otai
Yes, in the developing world, delaying motherhood and having smaller families has a lot of benefits for generations. Girls who became mothers in thier adolescent years missed out on completion of secondary education and did not go to college. This kept them locked up in the poverty cycle. On the other hand those who delayed motherhood were able to complete high school get a college certificate and are now out of the poverty cycle. During yesterdays celebration of the world population day, two young ladies gave moving testimonies about how they regret getting into mortherhood at 19 years . Both of them soon contracted HIV, their marriages did not last and they warned the youth to delay motherhood and think twice before engaging in sex. It makes all the difference.
Just amazing… I enjoyed thoroughly reading the anecdote.
Fabio Castaño
Dear mkibria, I am glad you liked it. Please feel free to share your thoughts and your own stories.
Vastha Kibirige
A lot needs to be done to help our rural uneducated young women learn about their bodies and be able to shun misinformation and misconceptions about side effects of family planning methods. the knowledge gap is big and must be addressed together with making the FC services more available and accessible to both men and women
Eliana López P.
Felicitaciones Fabio por escribir esta maravillosa e inspiradora historia que nos muestra cómo la decisión de optar por la planificación familiar tiene un impacto favorable en la vida de las personas. Así mismo, felicitaciones a MSH por el valioso trabajo que desarrolla en este tema trascendental. Sencillamente loable y digno de aplaudir!
Fabio Castaño
Estimada Eliana, Muchas gracias por tu comentario. Si, MSH desde su inicio hace 40 años ha tenido un compromiso permanente con las mujeres y niñas apoyando el acceso a servicios e información en Planificación Familiar y Salud Reproductiva. En la actualidad MSH apoya programas en esta área en más de 30 países, incluyendo varios en el Caribe, Centro y Suramérica.
Karla Schwarzbauer
Dear Fabio, thank you for sharing your story. As a latina myself, I know and have seen first hand, how hard it is in our countries for large families to provide and care for their children, much less provide them with a higher education and a better future. We have to continue working, if we have been blessed with better opportunities, we have to work harder and bring our knowledge and experience in being of influence in our countries, knowing that all this hard work will in some way benefit someone in a far away and excluded area, whom we have no idea exists, but who was benefited with better opportunities just because there are others working hard to make things happen.
Augusto Briceno MD
Hi Fabio When, I was reading this story, thikn in similar situations, dad and mom, discused with all family, about the benefits of a small family and finally influenced me decisión of life and work in family planing Congratulations
judit marisa
felicitaciones, motivaciones sobran, esfuerzos con validez comprobada en los resultados , están al alcance de nuestras manos, solo falta sumar voluntades políticas , comunitarias, para que sea una realidad el acceso pleno a los derechos sexuales y reproductivos en todo el mundo, especialmente en los países en desarrollo.
Bibiana Castaño
Fabio: felicitaciones por tu trabajo y por recordar con esta sencilla y real historia que muchas veces la solución para mejorar nuestras condiciones de vida simplemente esta en nuestras manos. Que valioso el trabajo de entidades como MSH, que pueden ayudar e impactar masivamente para lograr estos cambios.
Gracias por el comentario y por el camino compartido!!

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