50 Years of Population and Reproductive Health

Greg Olson

Communications Senior Associate

“I will seek new ways to use our knowledge to help deal with the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources.” With this declaration, in his State of the Union speech on January 4th, 1965, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson laid the foundation for 50 years of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funding for family planning and reproductive health services.

Panel of 6 Directors of the USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health. (Photo Credit: MSH)

In celebration of this legacy and the USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health’s (OPRH) dedicated support for family planning and reproductive health rights, on June 26, 2015, the Wilson Center hosted “Changing the World: How USAID’s 50 Years of Family Planning has Transformed People, Economies, and the Planet,” a unique panel and Q&A session—comprised by six current and former Directors of OPRH—offering a candid insight into the Office’s work during the 50-year interim.

Each Director spent time highlighting some of the challenges they faced during their tenure in leadership, but current Director Ellen Starbird laid out a fundamental principle that each Director and OPRH itself has ultimately served, saying: "we need to make sure that they (youth) have the information to make good choices; the information, the services, and the products."

Understanding the value of engaging women and youth on family planning and reproductive health issues, the Leadership, Management, and Governance (LMG) Project has supported training workshops for International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Member Associations’ learning centers. Training IPPF learning center staff in Uganda, Ghana, and Cameroon on the Leadership Development Program Plus (LDP+) empowered staff to deliver more effective sexual and reproductive health services to underserved women and youth populations.

Although empowering leaders, training managers, and establishing transparent governance of health systems are not always a recipe for immediate impact, these three factors are the cornerstone to sustainable and resilient health systems. Without the skills and ability to engage individuals and teams; efficiently mobilize limited resources; or steward accountability, a health system—from the Ministry of Health down to a community health center—cannot effectively deliver essential services.

Not sold? Here are two examples: in 2014, after three teams in Ghana participated in an LDP+, they delivered sexual and reproductive health services and education to more than 15,000 additional youth and adult clients in their communities. Similarly, during an LDP+ in 2014, a reproductive health center in Kapchorwa, Uganda, set a goal to reach a monthly average of service to 5,600 clients by November, 2014; by November they were able to regularly serve around 11,000 monthly clients.

Director Ellen Starbird with Former Directors Scott Radloff and Margaret Neuse. (Photo Credit: MSH)

Understanding the long-term impact that leadership, management, and governance skills have on health service delivery is essential to foster a resilient health system, and will be necessary to respond to increasing demand for health services and continuing scarcity of resources. As Director Starbird said, in closing the Wilson Center panel, the “ability to lead with knowledge, and to understand how to do partnerships effectively... is part of what we (USAID) really need to be paying attention to, and what I am going to pay attention to.”

You can find a full recap of the Wilson Center’s “Changing the World” event in their New Security Beat Storify.

Want to learn more about the LMG Project’s support for family planning, and sexual and reproductive health services? Check out these blog posts: Working 'Miracles' in GuluSupporting the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning, and the East Africa Women’s Mentoring Network.

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