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A Step Forward for South Sudan but Advocacy Needed to Turn Commitment into Reality

At the Family Planning Summit marking the five-year anniversary of the London Summit on Family Planning, South Sudan became one of three countries to make a first-time FP2020 commitment.

With less than 14% of the demand for modern contraception currently being met and a contraceptive prevalence rate that lags behind its neighboring countries, the commitment is a welcome step that signals South Sudan’s increased political will for expanding access to quality, voluntary family planning services. Specifically, the commitment seeks to raise the modern contraceptive prevalence rate for married women from 5% to 10% and reduce maternal mortality by 10% by the year 2020 through improving “availability and access to family planning information and services through provision of rights-based integrated sexual and reproductive health services.”

Missing from the formal commitment are any specific details about how South Sudan will reach this goal. Both Chad and Haiti’s new commitments, for example, include the creation of a budget line for family planning and outline other mechanisms to meet their goals such as creating an inter-ministerial committee to facilitate reproductive health efforts and establishing new legal frameworks for family planning. It is encouraging that during the announcement of the commitment at the Summit, the representative from South Sudan did reference increased government support for a community health initiative with a particular focus on reproductive health and family planning. However, the scope of this investment is still unknown. Also lacking from South Sudan’s commitment is any mention of key populations, such as adolescents and youth or victims of the ongoing humanitarian crisis there, both of which are spotlight issues at the Summit.

These gaps are where advocates come in. Civil society organizations play a crucial role in holding their leaders accountable to promises made, raising the needs of vulnerable populations in policy discussions, and – especially in an environment of rampant human rights abuses more broadly – ensuring that the rights-based language contained in the commitment is reflected in programming and service delivery settings. Advocates can also serve as technical experts, supporting their governments to translate high-level commitments into concrete action. As advocates know, any commitment or policy change is meaningless without the budget to make it happen.

Impact Health Organization (IHO) for example, a PAI partner through the Opportunity Fund of Advance Family Planning, has been working towards securing government funding for family planning at the subnational level in South Sudan. Earlier this year, as a result of IHO’s advocacy, Imatong State budgeted 1.5 million SSP (approximately USD $21,000) to family planning services for the first time ever. While the national political situation is volatile, IHO was able to capitalize on supportive leadership at the subnational level to win this allocation for family planning. This critical funding allocation will help support provider training, strengthening the logistics management system, and outreach to adolescents, rural populations, and urban poor. This allocation also sets an important precedent in Imatong state, building the foundation for future investment and providing an example for other states to follow.

Beyond the direct effect of the budget allocation, this type of advocacy win also rolls up to build a more conducive advocacy and policy environment and cultivate high-level support for family planning. If it were not for the tireless work of advocates like IHO advancing the reproductive health and rights agenda in ways big and small, South Sudan may never had made it to the stage on Tuesday.

Moving forward, the involvement of civil society at every step in the process is crucial to ensuring real and sustained progress on South Sudan’s family planning goals. On the heels of the Summit and renewed international attention on family planning, PAI stands with the countless in-country partners around the globe who are working tirelessly to link global initiatives to their national priorities, as well as their governments and the communities they serve.

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