The British Government in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will on Wednesday July 11th hold a major international conference in London on contraception to refocus attention on the issue.
The Gates Foundation and the British Government whilst pressing the issue, are expected to pledge about $4 billion to provide family planning services to 120 million women from the world’s poorest countries over the next eight years.
A new study conducted by researchers at John Hopkins University shows that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a potentially great improvement for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The study, published on Tuesday in The Lancet, a British science journal, prior to the major family planning conference in London, is an attempt to refocus attention on the issue.
The study indicated that the proportion of international population assistance funds that went to family planning fell to just six percent in 2008, down from 55 percent in 1995, while spending on H.I.V and AIDS represented 74 percent of the total in 2008, up from just 9 percent in 1995.
The Lancet study, which the Gates Foundation financed, draws on maternal mortality and survey data from the United Nations and World Health Organization to estimate the annual number of maternal deaths in 172 countries and the share that could be preventable by the use of contraception.
Birth control reduces health risks, the researchers said, by delaying first pregnancies, which carry higher risks in very young women; cutting down on unsafe abortions, which account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths in developing countries; and controlling dangers associated with pregnancies that are too closely spaced.
The authors of the Lancet study, researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, found that the number of maternal deaths in those countries in 2008 would have nearly doubled without contraception.
They acknowledged that maternal mortality record-keeping was weak in developing countries, a limitation of the study. They also found that an additional 29 percent of the deaths could have been prevented if women who wanted birth control would have received it, a concept called unmet need that is estimated using surveys of mothers in developing countries.
Population experts warn that developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility continues to be high and shortages of food and water are worsening, will face deteriorating conditions if family sizes do not shrink”.
The issue of family planning is burdened in the United States, where government assistance often gets caught up in political battles.
Contraception has again become controversial this political season, though the United States remains a major donor.
According to Gary Darmstadt, Director of Family Health at the Gates Foundation, “We hear time and again from women out in the field that they want the ability to plan their families. We felt we needed to shine a light back onto the importance of this issue and get the conversation going.”
Maternal deaths have declined dramatically since 1990, down by a third, according to the World Health Organization. But about 16 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where fertility is still more than four children per woman.
The lack of birth control in poor countries has become an important issue for Melinda Gates, who argued in highly personal remarks in April that birth control should not be controversial, because it improves women’s lives. GNA