As the projected increase in world population over the next generation will occur almost entirely in developing countries, any policies aimed at minimising that increase should be captured within the international development agenda. This was exactly the conclusion reached at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development whose 20-year Programme of Action, known as the Cairo Consensus, has proved to be a decisive influence on population policy.
Now coordinated by the UN Population Fund, the Cairo Consensus clarified that population concerns are not simply a matter of family planning but are best addressed by redoubling commitment to national poverty reduction plans in general and women’s education, health and economic empowerment in particular. For example, a full period of schooling for girls reduces the risk of teenage marriage and increases awareness and demand for contraception.
Approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals have accommodated this philosophy in the 5th Goal which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights is one of the associated targets.
This vision of universal access represents more of an embarrassment than a leap forward because the same target was included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to be fulfilled in 2015. In the event, distressingly high rates of maternal mortality in developing countries persisted for most of the MDG period. And a 2017 report by the Guttmacher Institute concludes that there are still 214 million women in these countries with an unfulfilled wish for family planning services, a number which has declined only slightly since 2008. The report also predicts that 35 million women giving birth during 2017 would not deliver in a health facility.
The Guttmacher report estimates that current expenditure on reproductive health services in developing countries needs to increase by over 75% if the universal target is to be achieved. However, it also calculates that each $1 of expenditure on contraceptive services reduces the cost of pregnancy-related care by $2.20.
Nonetheless, global donor funding of family planning services has fallen steadily since 2001, both in real terms and as a share of the overall health budget from foreign aid. In 2012 the London Summit on Family Planning launched a coordinated strategy to bring contraceptive services to 120 million women in the poorest countries by 2020. Its report at the halfway stage disclosed that 30 million women had been assisted.
more Population briefings (updated March 2018)
World Population Projections
Opposition to Family Planning
Overpopulation or Overconsumption?
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