A new report finds greater access to family planning methods would save developing countries more than $11 billion a year in reduced costs for maternal and newborn health care. In this year's State of the World Population report
, the United Nations Population Fund [UNFPA] also says that family planning and the resulting drop in family size pays additional economic dividends.
The report by the U.N. Population Fund says 222 million women in developing countries currently lack access to contraceptives and other family planning services. It says an investment of $4 billion a year would provide these women with reproductive information that would save lives by preventing unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.
In addition, the report notes increased access to family planning has proven to be a sound economic investment. Wealthy countries in Europe and North America have long reaped a so-called demographic dividend from having fewer children. It says the same logic works in developing countries.
Asia reaps benefits
Diane Stewart, the UNFPA director of information and external relations, said one-third of the growth of Asian "tiger" economies is due to increased access to family planning.
"And to be able to choose the number of children and when you start having children. So, that has dramatically changed the way people live in many countries," said Stewart. "They are able to live longer and healthier lives because of family planning, and it also has a positive multiplier effect on development because of the increased savings that are possible within the family and the investment in economic growth that that brings about."
The report finds big gaps in family planning services in sub-Saharan Africa, with some of the biggest unmet needs in West Africa. Modern contraceptives are not widely available in countries such as Chad and Niger.
Planning bolsters bottom line
UNFPA asserts that family planning helps lift nations out of poverty. A recent study predicted that Nigeria's economy would grow by at least $30 billion if the fertility rate in the country fell by just one child per woman in the next 20 years.
The report shows an investment of about $1.8 billion a year would be needed to provide sufficient contraceptives in developing countries. While this is important, Stewart said it also is critical to address social, political, and legal barriers that prevent access to these reproductive tools.
In many cultures, women are encouraged to have large families and to avoid or minimize the use of contraceptives.
Stewart said family planning is a global challenge.
"It is not just about developing countries, it is actually something that faces all countries. There are unmet needs for family planning in every country in the world," she said. "A lot of that has to do with poor, disadvantaged, marginalized groups in many countries who do not have access to the kinds of services and products that they need in order to plan their own families, space their children and prevent unattended pregnancies."
Stewart said family planning includes all voluntary methods of contraception - modern, traditional and natural. She noted UNFPA does not recognize abortion as an option because, she said, it is not good for the health of the mother.
She said studies show that access to modern methods of family planning and contraception radically reduces the rates of abortion in countries, whether legal or illegal.