Access to sexual and reproductive health information, supplies and services is key to improving the health and well-being of the world’s poor, according to the World Bank’s new 10-year strategy for health, nutrition and population (HNP) released this week. This strong commitment to family planning—and reaffirmation of the “Cairo Consensus” that recognized the interconnections among reproductive health, a sustainable environment and economic development—was a significant victory for advocates, European executive directors and many World Bank staff. Controversy had erupted after recent news reports that a socially conservative senior Bank manager moved to delete references to family planning in Madagascar’s country plan. The outcry intensified when early drafts of the new HNP strategy only weakly referred to the importance of family planning. Ultimately, the strategy was approved by consensus, after the United States dropped its objection concerning reproductive health care for adolescents.

Family planning services and supplies provided by the public sector and through private spending currently prevent 187 million unintended pregnancies each year, including 60 million unplanned births and 105 million abortions, according to "Adding It Up: The Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Care." This has measurable health benefits, including 2.7 million fewer infant deaths and 215,000 fewer pregnancy-related deaths.

In addition, improved sexual and reproductive health plays a crucial role in combating poverty worldwide and underpins all of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. For instance, sexual and reproductive health services contribute to economic growth and equity by allowing parents to have smaller families and thus devote greater time and financial resources to each child. And by enabling young women to delay childbearing until they have achieved education and training goals, family planning helps improve women’s social position and increase their community and political participation.

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The benefits of investing in sexual and reproductive health care

Meeting the global need for contraception

The United States’ contribution to meeting the need for contraception