A new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has described access to family planning as an essential human right that unlocks unprecedented rewards for economic development.
It revealed that making voluntary family planning available to everyone in developing countries, including Nigeria, would reduce costs for maternal and newborn health care by $11.3 billion annually.
The State of World Population 2012, published by the UN agency, also revealed that 222 million women in developing countries, including Nigeria, have an unmet need for family planning. It also added that an additional $4.1 billion in funding is needed to address current needs and those of the growing youth population.
The detailed report noted that increased access to family planning has proven to be a sound economic investment. One third of the growth of Asian "tiger" economies is attributed to a demographic shift in which the number of income-generating adults became higher than those who depended on them for support.
This shift, said the report, was a consequence of family planning and brought increased productivity, leading to economic development in the region.
According to it, "One recent study predicts that if the fertility rate fell by just one child per woman in Nigeria in the next 20 years, the country's economy would grow by at least $30 billion. And the benefits are not just economic."
The report found that the costs of ignoring the right to family planning include poverty, exclusion, poor health and gender inequality. Failing to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and young people in Malawi, for example, contributed to high rates of unintended pregnancy and HIV. In the United States, the report showed that teenage motherhood reduces a girl's chances of obtaining a high school diploma by up to 10 per cent.
Looking ahead, if an additional 120 million obtained access to family planning, the report estimated that 3 million fewer babies would die in their first year of life.
According to UNFPA Executive Director, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, "Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development. 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," Osotimehin, Nigeria's former Minister of Health, added.
The State of World Population 2012 said that governments, civil society, health providers and communities have the responsibility to protect the right to family planning for women across the spectrum, including those who are young or unmarried.
The report found that financial resources for family planning have declined and contraceptive use has remained mostly steady. In 2010, donor countries fell $500 million short of their expected contribution to sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries. Contraceptive prevalence has increased globally by just 0.1 per cent per year over the last few years.
However, there are signs of progress. Last July, at the London Summit on Family Planning, donor countries and foundations together pledged $2.6 billion to make family planning available to 120 million women in developing countries with unmet needs by 2020. Developing countries themselves pledged $2 billion.
But, according to the report, an additional $4.1 billion is necessary each year to meet the unmet need for family planning of all 222 million women who would use family planning but currently lack access to it. This investment would save lives by preventing unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.
However, to ensure that every person's right to family planning is realised, the report also called on governments and leaders to take or reinforce a rights-based approach to family planning; to secure an emphasis on family planning in the global sustainable development agenda that will follow the Millennium Development Goals in 2015; to ensure equality by focusing on specific excluded groups; and to 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," said Dr. Osotimehin. "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."