More than 130 experts from 46 countries around the world gathered in Dakar, Senegal, this week to discuss results achieved in 2013 with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Building on a very systematic analysis of these achievements and outstanding challenges, priorities for action in the area of sexual and reproductive health—especially regarding family planning and commodity security—were defined for 2014.
UNFPA flagship programmes on family planning, commodity security, maternal health, HIV/AIDS prevention, and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting were represented at the meeting, providing a unique opportunity to share experiences and lessons learned on the ground.
"We believe this structured and rigorous exchange will ensure we keep improving the quality of our technical assistance and thus results achieved in the countries we work," said Bruce Campbell, director of UNFPA's Technical Division.
Participants concluded that there are still significant disparities between urban and rural areas, both in terms of implementation needs and efficacy. "This is being addressed as a priority," explained Campbell, adding that equity analysis and evidence-based planning, capacity building and monitoring will also be a focus in 2014 to foster progress toward universal access and improved quality and help build more responsive health systems.
There was consensus among participants about the critical importance of sexual and reproductive health—as well as youth empowerment—for the development agenda, with strong commitment not only to accelerate action to achieve internationally agreed goals, but also to ensure that SRH and youth are prominently featured as development priorities in the years to come.
"These are critical times. We must build a fully rights-based sexual and reproductive health agenda into the future. And this cannot be done without young people. The future has the face of a 10-year-old girl today. The choices she can make and what happens to her over the next 15 years will profoundly impact development," said Campbell.
According to UNFPA, it's up to this generation to ensure that women's and girls' lives matter, that they live in dignity, have access to choices, education and opportunities to fulfill their potential. "This will boost development and create wealth, with healthier, more productive and participative individuals," added Campbell.
The importance of identifying innovative solutions to deliver on SRH was emphasized by experts gathered in Dakar. Country Offices are activating different practices and documenting the most promising ones for replication and scaled action in 2014 and beyond.
"UNFPA cannot operate without leveraging existing partnerships and building new ones," said Benoit Kalasa, Regional Director for West Africa. "Our engagement goes beyond service delivery. We are also strongly involved in constructive policy development, based on our experience on the ground, but also on our partnerships and governments' trust," he explained.
Accountability and value for money were also discussed during the meeting. As participants reported on results achieved in 2013, the group analyzed the effectiveness of interventions vis-à-vis resources invested.
"The international community and donor countries want to see more focus on results. We at UNFPA believe that accountability is crucial for sustainability and this planning meeting has been instrumental to make sure that we have the right interventions in place and that results achieved demonstrate real value for the investments made," said Jagdish Upadhyay, in charge of family planning and commodity security programmes at UNFPA.
The importance of ensuring focus on young people, in all the different areas of SRH, also emerged throughout the meeting:
"Today, we have the largest generation of young people the world has ever seen, with more than 40 per cent of the world's population under the age of 25," said Dr. Laura Laski, who leads sexual and reproductive health initiatives at UNFPA.
"With their dynamism and imagination, young people can transform the social and economic fortunes of developed and developing countries alike, but we must support them," she explained, adding that the right interventions—including youth empowerment, comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health information and services, and access to contraception—could help avoid forced marriages, unintended pregnancies, and lost opportunities.
"UNFPA works with governments and civil society partners at all levels to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls, partnering with men. We support the development of girls' education, economic and health assets, supporting community-owned solutions. We are building the future now," said Campbell.