Population Matters

Doubling Down on Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health

December 10th, 2009

Last week, the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released their report (Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health) that highlights the need to increase funding for international family planning and maternal and newborn health services.

The report estimates that meeting the needs for family planning and maternal and newborn health services in developing countries would require an investment of $24.6 billion a year, almost twice the $12.8 billion that is currently being spent.

Guttmacher projects, however, that the payoff would be dramatic:

  • “Unintended pregnancies would drop by more than two-thirds, from 75 million in 2008 to 22 million per year.
  • Seventy percent of maternal deaths would be averted—a decline from 550,000 to 160,000.
  • Forty-four percent of newborn deaths would be averted—a decline from 3.5 million to 1.9 million.
  • Unsafe abortions would decline by 73%, from 20 million to 5.5 million (assuming no change in abortion laws), and the number of women needing medical care for complications from unsafe procedures would decline from 8.5 million to two million.
  • The healthy years of life lost due to disability and premature death among women and their newborns would be reduced by 60%.”

Those are just the direct health benefits from investing in family planning and maternal and newborn health. The report also looks at some of the indirect benefits:

  • “The improvements in health systems that would provide lifesaving care to women and their newborns would strengthen heath systems’ responses to other urgent medical needs.
  • Greater use of condoms for contraception would reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, thereby helping to curb the AIDS pandemic.
  • Reducing unplanned births and family size would save on public-sector spending for health, water, sanitation and social services and reduce pressure on scarce natural resources, making social and economic development goals easier to achieve.
  • Reducing unintended pregnancies, particularly among adolescents, would improve educational opportunities for women, which would in turn contribute to improving the status of women, increasing family savings, reducing poverty, and spurring economic growth.
  • Environmental benefits also accrue for future generations when couples have smaller families, lowering population growth and related consumption of natural resources.”

Looking at all of the benefits that would come from a doubling of international support for family planning and maternal and newborn health it is hard to understand why this investment is not being made.  Measured by the reduction of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health services are far more cost-effective than many other health care interventions, including cholera immunization and oral rehydration therapy.

The benefits of expanding family planning services are particularly worth noting.  The study reports that it would cost an additional $3.6 billion to cover the costs of providing family planning services to all women in developing countries who need them.  Doing so, however, would reduce the cost of providing maternal and newborn care to all who need them by $5.1 billion–a net savings of $1.5 billion.

Congress, of course, is still debating how much to spend on international family planning assistance in 2010.  A final vote is expected soon. Let’s hope they read this report before they vote.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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