Maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70% and newborn deaths cut nearly in half if the world doubled investment in family planning and pregnancy-related care, shows a new report by the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Currently, more than half a million maternal deaths and 3.5 million newborn deaths, many of them easily preventable, occur each year, in developing countries.
The new report, Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health, also found that investments in family planning boost the overall effectiveness of every dollar spent on the provision of pregnancy-related and newborn health care. Simultaneously investing in both family planning and maternal and newborn services can achieve the same dramatic outcomes for $1.5 billion less than investing in maternal and newborn health services alone.
“Investing in a handful of basic health services, like family planning and routine delivery care, can save millions of women and babies,” says Dr. Sharon Camp, President of the Guttmacher Institute. “It’s not rocket science. These are mostly simple services that can be provided inexpensively at the local level, supplemented by provision of urgent care when needed.”
Adding it Up documents that the benefits of meeting the need for both family planning and maternal and newborn health services would be dramatic. Compared with the current situation:
- the deaths of nearly 400,000 women and 1.6 million infants would be prevented;
- unintended pregnancies would decline by more than two-thirds;
- unsafe abortions and resulting complications would both drop by about 75%; and
- a host of other benefits would occur, including reduced poverty and increased economic development in poor countries.
The new report shows that the total investment needed is $24.6 billion – a little more than double the current spending.
“It is a win-win situation. We know what must be done, we know what it will cost, and we now know that the needed investment is modest in relation to the vast benefits that will follow,” says Ms. Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA.
Currently, the world spends approximately $12 billion a year on family planning and maternal health programmes in developing nations, with developing countries and families providing the bulk of the total. Still, research shows that 215 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using an effective method of contraception, and only about half of the 123 million women who give birth each year receive the antenatal, delivery and newborn care they need. Millions of those with major complications get no treatment and either die or suffer from severe and debilitating conditions such as obstetric fistula.
Investing in family planning and maternal health, would also have profound additional benefits the report shows: Increases in condom use for pregnancy prevention would simultaneously curb transmission of HIV and other STIs; preventing unwanted pregnancies would increase women’s educational and employment opportunities, enhancing their social and economic status; and family savings and investment would rise, spurring economic growth and reducing poverty. These advances would make social and economic development goals easier to achieve.
“It is critical to the progress of the world’s most disadvantaged countries and regions to address the high rates of maternal and newborn death that have long been endemic. Investing simultaneously in family planning and in maternal and newborn health is cost-effective,” says Ms. Obaid.
“The report outlines how to best focus resources to achieve the greatest gains. Investing in women has enormous benefits, not just for individuals and families, but for societies as a whole. It can truly transform the future of developing nations,” added Dr. Camp.