This week the Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released “Adding it Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services –Estimates for 2012.” The report indicates that there are an estimated 222 million women in the developing world today who want to avoid a pregnancy in the next two years, but who are not using a modern contraceptive method.
While the new number represents an increase from an earlier “Adding it Up” report indicating that there were 215 million women with “an unmet need” for family planning in 2008, the latest report revises that 2008 number up to 226 million. Thus, the number of women with an “unmet need” has declined by an estimated 4 million over the past four years, virtually unchanged. The proportion of married women in the developing world using a modern method of birth control increased–but barely—from 56 percent in 2008 to 57 percent in 2012.
Notable progress has been made in some parts of the developing world over the past four years, but in the 69 poorest countries there was no decline in the absolute number of women with an “unmet need.” In fact, there was an increase in sub-Saharan Africa, from 50 million in 2008 to 53 million in 2012.
The very slight decrease in unmet need shows that we are still a long way from realizing Millennium Development Goal 5b, which calls for universal access to family planning by 2015. This lack of progress is deadly: 287,000 women die every year from maternal mortality related causes. Many of those deaths would be averted if every woman had access to family planning. According to the Guttmacher Institute, modern methods of family planning will prevent 218 million unintended pregnancies and 118,000 maternal deaths in 2012.
The new Guttmacher Study reports that “the effects of filling the current unmet need for modern contraceptive methods would be dramatic:
- Unintended pregnancies would decline by two-thirds, from 80 million to 26 million.
- There would be 26 million fewer abortions (including 16 million fewer unsafe procedures).
- There would be 21 million fewer unplanned births.
- Seven million fewer miscarriages would occur.
- Pregnancy-related deaths would drop by 79,000. Most of this reduction (48,000) would take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest levels of both maternal mortality and unmet need for contraception.
- There would be 1.1 million fewer infant deaths.”
Family planning also makes economic sense. Currently the world spends $4 billion annually on family planning services and saves, as a consequence, $5.6 billion in maternal and newborn health costs. Guttmacher reports that it would cost an additional $4.1 billion to meet the unmet need for modern contraceptives in the developing world, but doing so would save $5.7 billion in other costs, including maternal and infant care. If Congress wants to cut costs, it should boost, not cut, international family planning assistance: for every $1.00 spent, we save $1.40.
For all these reasons, it is imperative that the United States join with other donor countries in boosting their funding commitments at the upcoming Family Planning Summit in London on July 11. The summit, which is being hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), has set the goal of expanding family planning services to an additional 120 million women in the developing world by 2020. If that goal is to be met, the United States needs to boost its funding support, not cut it.
Make your voice heard! Tell Congress to do its part in making the goal of universal access to reproductive health services a reality.
Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy