Access to contraception is a universal human right and could save billions of dollars each year in poor countries, the United Nations Population Fund said Wednesday.
The annual report, "The State of World Population 2012: By Choice, Not By Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development," marks the first time the agency has explicitly described contraception as a human right, the Associated Press reports.
According to the UN, 222 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for family planning, which is the responsibility of "governments, civil society, health providers and communities."
Birth control cuts a woman's chances of dying in childbirth by a third, according to UNFPA executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. If an additional 120 million had access to contraception, by 2020 an estimated three million fewer babies would die in their first year of life.
But women and children are not the only beneficiaries of increased access to birth control. According to the report, increasing funding for family planning by $4.1 billion could save $11.3 billion annually in health care costs for mothers and newborns in poor countries.
And the effort would also improve economies.
“Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development,” Osotimehin writes in a statement accompanying the report. “Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labour-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”
But funding has declined while use of contraception has remained mostly steady, the UN says.
In 2010, donor countries fell $500 million short of their expected contributions to sexual and reproductive health servvices in developing countries.
Still, the study notes that donor countries and foundations pledged $2.6 billion last July to make family planning available to 120 million women in developing countries with unmet needs by 2020, and developing countries also pledged to increase their support.
But an additional $4.1 billion would be necessary to meet the unmet need.
The report calls on governments and officials to:
— Take or reinforce a rights-based approach to family planning
— Secure an emphasis on family planning in the global sustainable development agenda that will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015
— Ensure equality by focusing on specific excluded groups
— Raise the funds to invest fully in family planning.
“Family planning is not a privilege, but a right. Yet, too many women—and men—are denied this human right,” Osotimehin said. “The pledge we made in July in London to increase access to family planning will improve the lives of millions and will each year help avert 200,000 maternal deaths. As we approach the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, I call on all leaders to build on this momentum, close the funding gap, and make voluntary family planning a development priority.”