NAIROBI, Kenya - World leaders, businesses, civil society organisations among others have made pledges of support to fulfill the three goals of the International Conference on Population and Development Conference (ICPD25) held in Nairobi, Kenya today. 

As of today, conference supporters have made over 1,000 commitments to reach three key goals: zero maternal mortality, zero unmet needs to access family planning and zero tolerance towards gender-based violence – this includes child marriage and the traditional practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 

The commitments stem from a promise made 25 years ago during the first International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, where 179 government adopted an action plan placing women and girls at the center of development, improving female empowerment and sexual and reproductive health. 

“I really do believe that so many of us have convened in Nairobi because we recognize by advancing people’s rights, particularly women’s rights, their choices and their wellbeing, this is the path to prosperous and resilient societies […] women are the backbone of the family and a nation,” announced Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the conference’s reception. Kenyatta went on to pledge that Kenya would increase the national health budget to ensure the highest health services to combat maternal mortality and fully eliminate FGM by 2022. The Summit is hosted and convened by United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), Denmark and Kenya. 

Denmark, a leading donor, has already committed to $110 million today and plan to commit another $33 million, according to the Danish Minister of Development Cooperation Rasmus Prehn. 

A recent study by UNFPA, Johns Hopkins University, Victoria University, the University of Washington and Avenir Health has placed the price tag to reach these three global targets at $264 billion over the next decade. Achieving these results is a precondition to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of global priorities agreed by the world’s governments, by 2030. “You cannot reach the Sustainable Development Goals without achieving the ICPD, it’s that simple,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem. “This is an investment in humanity, something we cannot afford not to do.” 

According to Professor John Stover of the University of Washington, there are an estimated 232 million women who desire access to contraceptives to control their birthrate but lack access to them. The study estimates $68.5 billion would be needed to resolve this for 68 priority countries, roughly the cost of six modern military aircraft carriers.   

While the total costs are high, ignoring them, says Kanem, is far more costly. 

“The targets built around the 3 zeros are real targets for us in Kenya,” says Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Macharia Kamau. “We know the cost of under-development, $264 billion is miniscule in the face of the cost of under-development. The cost of thousands of dead mothers, and the 100,000 orphaned children who are left behind by these dead mothers -- If you think $264 billion is too much, the counterfactual is 100 times worse.” 

Whether considered a reasonable investment or not, a huge funding gap remains. So far, there is $42 billion development assistance pledged for these goals. The study estimates a funding gap of 46 percent for maternal health worldwide over the next ten years, where around 68 percent of this gap takes place in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

But more and more pledges of support are coming in as the conference progresses from all sectors, including private partners. Private sector organizations announced today they will mobilize $8 billion in combined pledges. The support is not only pecuniary, knowledge and innovation also play a role to improve women's and girl’s reproductive rights. 

Sherrly Achieng works in Kenya as a tea farmer for the tea manufacturing company Twinings and faced severe health complications over the family planning method she was using. “I felt tired all the time, weak and miserable […] I feared sharing my problem with anyone and felt I was the only one to have this issue,” Achieng said. Fortunately, Twinings had set up a civic health education project for their staff, now Achieng has changed to another method and helps guide others in reproductive health matters. “There are many people with these problems,” says Peris Ochieng, another employee at Twinings, “if they are empowered with knowledge then they will find a solution to these problems and solve others as well.” 

More commitments are expected to be announced in the days ahead. “The heart of this summit is about commitment and actions,” said UNFPA Director, Communications and Strategic Partnerships, Arthur Erken. “We told delegates don’t come with another speech, come with a plan. You signed off in Cairo, now put words into action.” 

© AFP-Services