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College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Publish Date

7 April 2020

A key to reducing poverty

Access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. It is central to gender equality, women’s empowerment and is a key factor in reducing poverty. To commemorate the UN’s World Population Day, JCU Lecturer Sandra Downing explains how investment in family planning saves lives and makes financial sense.

It is critical to support the right of women and girls to decide freely and for themselves whether, when and how many children they have. This year’s World Population Day coincides with the Family Planning Summit, which will bring together advocates and leaders from around the world with the vision of expanding access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020.

There has been a slow but steady increase in the use of modern contraceptive methods in developing countries. In 2016, the total number of users in the world’s poorest countries reached 300 million. Yet 214 million women of reproductive age in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method. These women are considered to have an unmet need for modern contraception.

There are many reasons why women do not use contraceptives including logistical problems, such as difficulty travelling to health facilities or supplies running out at health clinics. There are also social barriers, such as opposition by partners, families or communities. Lack of knowledge plays a role, with many women not understanding that they are able to become pregnant, not knowing what contraceptive methods are available, or having incorrect perceptions about the health risks of modern methods.

Ensuring that women with an unmet need for modern contraception overcome barriers to effective contraceptive use is crucial, since they account for 84 per cent of all unintended pregnancies in developing regions.

Expanding access to modern forms of contraception, with a focus on the most marginalised and vulnerable girls and women, is also vital to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Family planning can speed up progress in every aspect of development. Whether or not women and girls can have access to contraception will have an enormous —and perhaps determinative — impact on our ability to reach the SDGs in every country.

Changing millions of lives

Meeting the need for family planning and pregnancy-related care in developing countries will have a dramatic impact on the lives of millions of women and their families.

Investing in these services, apart from the health benefits, will see increases in women’s and children’s education, increases in women’s earnings and reductions in poverty. Fully meeting family planning needs in developing countries would cost just US$1.75 per person per year while an investment of US$8.39 per person per year would meet both family planning and maternal/newborn care needs.

Policy restrictions, poor-quality services and social and economic factors that prevent women and girls from accessing or using modern contraceptive methods must be addressed. Breaking down barriers to access requires high-quality contraceptive services that offer a wide range of methods and include accurate, comprehensive counselling.

We know that family planning works. Meeting the sexual and reproductive needs of women in developing regions is achievable and affordable, if this global health priority is given the attention it deserves.

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Sandra Downing

Senior Lecturer

Sandra Downing is a registered nurse, midwife and field epidemiologist with particular interests in public health in emergency settings, women’s and children’s health in low resource settings, and sexual and reproductive health.

As a field epidemiologist, Sandra works with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in outbreak responses and training/capacity building through the Global Outbreak and Response Network (GOARN). She has also worked in humanitarian emergencies with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) implementing mortality and communicable disease surveillance, responding to outbreaks and conducting food and livelihood security surveys.

Recent research includes a collaboration with the Australian and Vanuatu Red Cross to support menstrual hygiene management in disaster preparedness and response activities. Current research collaborations include an exploration of unintended pregnancy prevention and care education in undergraduate nursing and midwifery programs, women’s experiences of abortion care in north Queensland and improving access to unintended pregnancy care in the region.