Advancing Family Planning and Reproductive Health: South-South Cooperation, a missing element?

Promoting Global South-South Cooperation is essential to advancing Family Planning goals.  To ensure, that that all women, no matter where they live, should have access to lifesaving contraceptive by 2020, is a critical milestone to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights by 2030, as laid out in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 3 and 5

In order to advancing family planning and reproductive health goals by 2020, an inclusive partnership that is working with a diverse group of stakeholders is essential. South-South Partnership has to be central to this global movement.

To achieve SDG three and five, it is essential to revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development (SDG17), by enhancing North-South, South-South and triangular, regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation through improved coordination among existing donor mechanisms, and at the United Nations level.  Such partnership is vital for enhancing access to generic and essential family planning commodities.

Achieving the targets of FP2020 is essentially a challenge of the Global South. Over a period of time, the policy makers and political leaders are aware that South-South Cooperation is vital for development and reduction of dependence on the North.

However, this reality does not seem to have been acknowledged and supported by some of the donor agencies from the Global North. Instead, some even ignore this reality and undermine efforts to promote South-South Collaboration, promoting self-respect and self-reliance in knowledge management, sharing of expertise and exchange of resources among the global South.

In today’s development assistance parlance, Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is measured as development assistance if it is offered by OECD countries or by the development agencies and foundations from the North. The exchange of resources, services and commodities between the Global South is not accounted as development assistance. Even those countries and agencies who are advancing ‘creative financing for development’ ignore the contribution derived through the South-South cooperation framework.

For instance, the once upon a time heavily ‘aid depended’ country Bangladesh, today has begun offering aid and assistance to neighboring countries in need. During the recent floods, Bangladesh provided   modest  relief assistance to Sri Lanka in the form of drugs, medicines and other relief materials such as oral saline and water purifying tablets. South Africa provides scholarship for students from Global South to study population policy; China provides several million dollars worth of family planning commodities; the Indonesia-Vietnam collaboration is in the area of family planning; support  for  Family Planning training is provided for by Tunisia to the francophone countries; and the contribution of generic drugs  from India which is the global pharmacy of the south are not accounted as official  development assistance or development financing.

The bias against the South-South Collaboration is systematic and widespread.  One of the recently published series of open access systematic reviews assessing  different financing mechanisms for family planning in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) has not acknowledged or accounted for the Global south-south exchange of  resources,  commodities and services.

Such bias against South-South Collaboration extends to studies in ‘Health Financing for Family Planning’ as well.  Even with increasing attention turning to the importance of ‘Creative Financing Mechanisms’ to mobilize domestic resources to support family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs, the potential of South-South Collaboration is being ignored.

This bias against the best interest of the Global South in accessing family planning commodities even extends to the promotion of ‘monopoly’ commodities of family planning. All this at the expense of promoting generic family planning commodities that may be promote  greater health equity  and accessible to women and girls from the Global South. It seems, there is an unreasonable hurry to promote ‘monopolistic  family planning  commodities’ and innovations to the consumers of the global south, while no such enthusiasm is shown, to share those innovations to the ‘Public Goods Domain’ or bringing them into the essential drugs list.

While country level Commitments, Progress and Transparency are promoted and accounted for, no such efforts have been made to monitor the flow of South-South Collaboration for family planning. Or rather they are systematically ignored.

Most of the Family Planning policy research is led by the institutions of the Global North, and there are limited efforts being made to examine how countries from the global south have made progress –  through South-South Collaboration, what are  such  mechanisms working in those countries, and what extent do they cover Family Planning services and training needs.

South-South Collaboration has great potential to lessen inequity in access to family planning commodities and make progress toward universal access to family planning. There are several UN declarations and covenants promoting and endorsing the value of such collaborations.  Further research and data is needed to assess this potential and to promote it.

UNFPA’s Corporate Strategy for South-South and Triangular Cooperation (2017) is  an example of a solid acknowledgement of any UN agencies to  the scope of  South-South Cooperation.

There are robust south-south institutional mechanisms existing to provide technical assistance in population and family planning. This includes the South-South ministerial-level meetings on population and development  that is held routinely to intensify the exchange of information regarding population policies and family planning programs; to organize South-South technical cooperation schemes on family planning education, innovative safe motherhood, and family planning programs; and to establish programs for the production of medical supplies and commodities for family planning programs.

At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 179 countries adopted a forward-looking, 20-year Programme of Action (POA). This POA continues to serve as a comprehensive guide to family planning and reproductive health programs. The ICPD Programme of Action was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are cornerstones of population and development programs.

In order to promote the POA of ICPD, 10 developing countries announced the establishment of a South-South organization called Partners in Population and Development (PPD).  The rationale for this initiative was laid out in the ICPD Programme of Action itself.  The aim of this partnership was to promote training, research and exchange of information among the 10 member countries — Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Thailand, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.  Currently, PPD – the only inter-governmental organization of the Global South mandated to promote South-South Cooperation in the area of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Rights and services has 26 members. The expansion of the membership itself is an indicator of the relevance of this organization among its members.

Today, PPD has Permanent Observer status at the UN General Assembly and has diplomatic presence in New York and Geneva. PPD is appropriately poised to enhance opportunities for promoting South-South Collaboration for Family Planning, sexual and reproductive services and rights – elevating family planning and SRHR issues itself into the realm of international relationships and diplomacy. The synergy between ‘South-South Diplomacy’ and ‘Population Diplomacy’ has elevated the opportunities of PPD into a unique arena of advocacy and policy dialogue, developing joint position on family planning issues, opportunities for ministerial peer review mechanisms, advocating for justice in access to essential medicines and commodities and bilateral engagements for family planning and SRHR

The Call to Action to advance South-South Cooperation for the enhancement of human life in the Global South was promoted  at the “Beijing Consensus on South-South Cooperation” derived out of the Beijing International Inter-Ministerial Conference on South-South Cooperation for Population and Development in the Post-ICPD and MDGs in 2013.

The Beijing Consensus identified South-South Cooperation as  a unique mechanism for fostering solidarity among the Global South through shared vision and collective coordinated action for delivering public goods through sharing of knowledge, experience and application of appropriate techniques, technologies and methodologies towards attaining holistic human development and common prosperity.  South-South partnerships have helped successful implementation of several family planning and reproductive health programs.  The South-South Collaboration fosters partnerships; supports the Global South to develop policies, share resources, exchange experience, transfer knowledge, technology and innovation for the global South.

Unequivocally, the institutions of South-South Cooperation have developed skills for high level advocacy to galvanize coordinated collective action while aspiring to achieve better quality of life. However, there are systematic barriers that hinder consolidating the gains of the past and building on the best practices for moving on to the next level of achievements. Silence of  the northern institutions on the scope of South-South Cooperation in Advancing Family Planning in the Global South is one among them.

Despite daunting challenges, South-South Cooperation has been at the vanguard of delivering hope to its citizens. Unstinted political will and national commitments translating the aspirations of the people into essential public goods are the hallmarks of the South-South Cooperation. Articulating these aspirations, PPD member states have taken the lead to explore strategies for approaching SDGs beyond 2015 within the realm of South-South Cooperation.

PPD today represents 58% of the world’s population. Representing close to 4 billion people, it is specifically in the areas of infant and child mortality reduction that PPD has demonstrated how its member countries’ performance has been better than the non-PPD member countries. In the past 20 years maternal deaths have reduced from eight million to four million, a fifty percent drop both in MMR and in absolute numbers. Child deaths have also reduced by a similar proportion. Strong trajectories of population dividend evident in most PPD countries indicate positive gains as a result of strategic programming and partnerships.

The scope of the South-South Cooperation in the context of post-2014 ICPD program of action and SDGs beyond 2015 is vital to the attainment of the global Family Planning commitments. Hinging on this pivot, South-South Cooperation in conjunction with SDG 17 on global partnership is the key ingredient for delivering tangible regional and national actions for the attainment of ICPD goals and SDGs.

In this direction, five pathways have been identified by PPD to accomplish the global Family Planning, Sexual and Reproductive Health obligations for achieving sustainable development:

  1. Integrating Population Dynamics into the National Development process;
  2. Universal access to Family Planning, Sexual and Reproductive Health Services;
  3. Gender Equity and Women Empowerment;
  4. Strengthening Family Capacity Building;
  5. South-South Cooperation for Population and Development.

At PPD, we have made it our strategic methodology to approach the global SDG goals through South-South partnership frame work, enhanced political will,  promoting national resilience and community engagement.

We would like to appeal to the global community, development partners, bilateral agencies and the UN General Assembly to ensure and continue their support and commitment towards promoting South-South Cooperation for Population and Development. Any failure to do so will be a betrayal of the interest of the most vulnerable women and children from the Global South.


Dr. Joe Thomas, Executive Director, PPD *


*Opinion expressed in this document are from the author’s point of view

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