Dr. Frederick T. Sai on why we need to turn our attention to the 215 million women without access to modern contraception
That’s how many women around the world today know they need modern contraceptives, but do not have access. And the numbers who do not know are even higher. In my years as a physician, I’ve met dozens of women who had wanted to delay pregnancy, but did not have the information or the tools they needed to do so. In Africa, just 25 percent of married women use contraceptives regularly. On average, each woman will have five children in her lifetime and has a one in 36 chance of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.
The immediate burden of unmet contraceptive need falls squarely on women and their children. I’ve seen firsthand how, with inadequate health care services and facilities, unintended pregnancies are frequently unsafe, and more likely to result in both maternal injury or death and poor health for infants and children. Ensuring contraceptive use is therefore a key strategy to reducing maternal, infant and child deaths, which remain unacceptably high.
But contraception is not just about women. It is about the rights, health and socio-economic development of men and young people, and it is about entire communities and nations. Meeting the global need for family planning services is an affordable and powerful strategy for improving health outcomes, enhancing rights and empowering women and their families. Ultimately, family planning even reduces poverty by increasing productivity and broad economic development in turn.
Whether each of us realizes it yet or not, we all have a role to play. The 7 billion milestone signifies both achievements and grave responsibilities. We must work to protect the health, wellbeing and rights of all seven billion citizens of the world, while ensuring that individuals can plan their families and contribute to the balance between our numbers and our resource use.
This week, more than 2,000 policy-makers, researchers and donors from around the world will gather at the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss just this. The conference will be the largest meeting of its kind, hopefully signifying a true renaissance in both funding and political will for this issue.
In the face of the global unmet need for contraception, all levels of leadership – political, religious and traditional – cannot and should not stand idly by. As advocates, we must build on the momentum around this meeting and call on our own leaders to champion increased access to family planning. We can do better at delivering the solutions we have and be more innovative in developing new approaches to meeting contraceptive needs.
Investing in family planning today will not only pay dividends now, but will also help history’s largest generation of young people forge a brighter future. Let me be clear – this is not just a woman’s issue, but a human one. It is not one region or nation’s issue, but a global one. Access to family planning remains a critical human rights, public health and development issue – and now is the time to take action.
Dr. Frederick T. Sai is an international reproductive health adviser and former senior population adviser to the World Bank.