Study finds contraception saves lives
A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world's most vulnerable populations.
The study, published today in The Lancet, comes ahead of a major family planning conference in London organized by the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is an attempt to refocus attention on the issue.
It has faded from the international agenda in recent years, overshadowed by efforts to combat Aids and other infectious diseases, as well as by ideological battles.
The proportion of international population assistance funds that went to family planning fell to 6 per cent in 2008, down from 55 per cent in 1995, while spending on HIV/Aids represented 74 per cent of the total in 2008, up from just 9 per cent in 1995, according to Rachel Nugent, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, who cited figures from the United Nations Population Fund.
But population growth has continued to surge, with the United Nations estimating last year that the world's population, long expected to stabilize, will instead keep growing.
Population experts warn that developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility continues to be high and shortages of food and water are worsening, will face deteriorating conditions if family sizes do not shrink.
"Family planning kind of faded from the radar screen, and now it is coming back," said John May, a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development and author of a book, "World Population Policies: Their Origin, Evolution, and Impact."
"There is a realisation from many different places that population issues are not going away," he said.
The issue of family planning is fraught in the United States, where government assistance often gets caught up in political battles. Contraception has again become controversial this political season, although the United States remains a major donor.
The Gates Foundation and the British government are pressing the issue. About $4 billion is expected to be pledged at the London conference to provide family planning services to 120 million women from the world's poorest countries over the next eight years.
"We hear time and again from women out in the field that they want the ability to plan their families," said Gary Darmstadt, director of family health at the Gates Foundation, who spoke by telephone from London. "We felt we needed to shine a light back onto the importance of this issue and get the conversation going."