Policymakers and other stakeholders involved in negotiating the post-2015 development agenda should heed the overwhelming evidence that investing in sexual and reproductive health is effective and cost-effective, argues a new Guttmacher policy analysis. The post-2015 framework currently being drafted under the auspices of the United Nations establishes key policy principles and will guide funding priorities at the country and global levels for the next 15 years.

“The evidence is clear and compelling—investing in sexual and reproductive health pays huge dividends for women, babies and families, as well as for social and economic development overall,” says Sneha Barot, author of the analysis. “Even better, the evidence not only shows that the needed funding is well within our means, but also provides a clear roadmap on how to prioritize these investments to make the best use of limited resources.”

Barot cites a December 2014 report by Guttmacher, co-released with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), documenting how investing in a more comprehensive package of services would save the most lives while costing less than standalone approaches. Crucially, contraceptive services have to be a core component of such an approach, alongside maternal and newborn care and services related to HIV and other STIs. By reducing unintended pregnancies and unplanned births, contraceptive services lower expenditures for maternal and newborn care and free up health system funds to provide other much-needed health services.

“The key concept policymakers must grasp is that excluding any of these components makes the overall package both less effective and more expensive,” says Barot. “In particular, those who say they want to improve maternal and newborn health but are at the same time trying to exclude or minimize contraceptive services from global health priorities have to realize their approach is wrong. It ends up saving fewer lives and having a smaller overall impact than could otherwise be achieved.”

Fully meeting the need for sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries would have a tremendous positive impact:

  • Maternal deaths would drop by two-thirds.
  • Newborn deaths would drop by three-fourths.
  • The burden of disability related to pregnancy and delivery experienced by women and newborns would drop by three-fourths.
  • Mother-to-newborn HIV transmission would be nearly eliminated.

The annual cost of providing the full range of needed sexual and reproductive health services for women and newborns in developing countries would be $39.2 billion. That is slightly more than double the current expenditure but translates to only $25 per woman of reproductive age. Leading economists associated with the think tank Copenhagen Consensus Center rated investments in sexual and reproductive health as “phenomenal,” ranking it among the top 13 out of 169 targets for boosting global development.

“Most of the additional funding will likely come from individuals receiving services and their national governments, who together cover the bulk of current expenditures,” says Barot. “But international donors and nongovernmental organizations will need to step up as well and provide the remainder, as well they should. They would be hard-pressed to find a better way to make a real difference.”

Read Barot’s full analysis here: “Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Are Key to Global Development: The Case for Ramping Up Investment.”