Better access to family planning could save lives and strengthen economies..
I'm often asked, what is the single most important intervention to improve the lives of women and girls in developing countries? I usually answer by urging investment in girls' education. But a close second--and in some cases I would put first--is birth control. Access to family planning is a matter of survival for many of the world's women, and their children too. Save the Children reports that pregnancy causes more deaths (50,000) of teenaged women aged 15-19 than any other cause. A recent Gates Foundation-funded study in The Lancet suggests that in 2008, contraceptive use prevented 272,040 maternal deaths--and that if every woman who wanted access to contraceptives had them, then an additional 104,00 mothers would live each year. Moreover, birth spacing is also critical for reducing child mortality. Save the Children notes that if mothers waited 36 months to conceive again after the birth of a child, the deaths of 1.8 million children (or one-quarter of the deaths of children under 5) could be avoided. Yet some 220 million women around the world "have an unmet need for family planning."
In London today, an effort is underway to save the lives of millions of women and children as representatives from governments, civil society organizations, and the private sector gather for the London Summit on Family Planning. The summit seeks to fund "family planning for an additional 120 million women in the world's poorest countries" by 2020 and to "commit to sustaining coverage for the estimated 260 million women in these countries who are using contraceptives." Main conveners include the UK government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The Gates Foundation plans to fund $560 million of this effort, which aims to raise at least $4 billion.