It pays to invest in reproductive health

What you need to know:

  • The total required investment amounts to Sh1.6 trillion ($17.2 billion) annually, almost five times current spending. But the price-tag should not be a deal-breaker. On the contrary, it should be a priority.
  • In fact, investments in modern contraceptive services actually save money. For every additional dollar invested in preventing an unintended pregnancy, more than Sh140 ($1.52) is saved in pregnancy-related care.
  • Without adequate resources and commitment, the disparities in access to services between poorer and better-off women — and between poorer and wealthier countries — will grow wider.

Here is an painful fact: There are 55 million women living in sub-Saharan Africa who want to avoid pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. And the consequences are huge — 18 million unintended pregnancies and 5.7 million unsafe abortions a year.

We can and must do better. During the past decade, more women than ever before are using modern contraception to plan their pregnancies.

More give birth in health clinics. And fewer people are dying from Aids. These results are thanks to the global community’s efforts to bring essential drugs and services to the poorest regions of the world.

Yet, these gains have barely kept pace with rapidly growing populations. If we don’t speed up the pace of investment in sexual and reproductive health, we risk losing the gains made. If investments stays at current levels in sub-Saharan Africa, each year we will lose 183,000 women and 1.2 million newborns.

The further behind we get, the harder it will be to catch up. That’s why it is necessary that national governments and international donors act quickly.

The benefits are known. Women who plan their births stay healthy and complete their education, work more, accumulate higher income, and raise healthier and better educated children. These family-level benefits spur community and national economic development.

The Guttmacher Institute has done the arithmetic: Investing Sh7,000 ($76) per year per woman in sub-Saharan Africa would provide a basic package of reproductive health services.

These include contraception, delivery, newborn care, care for pregnant women with HIV and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

PRICE TAG

The total required investment amounts to Sh1.6 trillion ($17.2 billion) annually, almost five times current spending. But the price-tag should not be a deal-breaker. On the contrary, it should be a priority.

Investing in sexual and reproductive health has one of the highest rates of return in international development. And, not all of this will come from donors; the bulk will come from governments and from the women who receive the services.

In fact, investments in modern contraceptive services actually save money. For every additional dollar invested in preventing an unintended pregnancy, more than Sh140 ($1.52) is saved in pregnancy-related care. Additional savings accrue, from healthcare to education to jobs.

Saving money is great, but saving and improving lives is even better. By satisfying all unmet need for reproductive health care, the number of unintended pregnancies would decrease by 83 per cent, maternal deaths would plummet by nearly 70 per cent, newborn deaths would drop by 82 per cent, and there would be hardly any new HIV infections in newborns.

Without adequate resources and commitment, the disparities in access to services between poorer and better-off women — and between poorer and wealthier countries — will grow wider.

As governments and international agencies consider development goals for 2015 and beyond, they should give priority to universal access to sexual and reproductive health services. These investments are a cornerstone of sustainable development, and every woman’s right. 

Dr Babatunde Osotimehin is the executive director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Ms Ann M. Starrs is the president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute 

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