Hilary Clinton commits US to global reproductive health investment

12 January 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on January 8, declared the US government's renewed support for and dedication to international family planning and reproductive health programs.

U.S Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, addressing the UN.

U.S Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, addressing the UN.

Credit: UN Photo/ Jean-Marc Ferre

Investment in reproductive health "is essential"

In a major speech on the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), Hilary Clinton said investing in women-including by helping them time and space their pregnancies and by providing pregnancy-related care-"is essential to the prosperity and opportunity of all, to the stability of families and communities, and the sustainability and development of nations."

US Global Health Initiative

This strong endorsement of family planning and reproductive health care as core components of US global health and development policy came as the Obama administration readies its signature Global Health Initiative, which aims to revamp US health and development assistance worldwide. The Initiative features the reduction of unintended pregnancies and improved maternal and child health as two of four main pillars.

"In the Obama administration, we are convinced of the value of investing in women and girls, and we understand there is a direct line between a woman's reproductive health and her ability to lead a productive, fulfilling life," Secretary Clinton said. "And therefore, we believe investing in the potential of women and girls is the smartest investment we can make. It is connected to every problem on anyone's mind around the world today. So we are rededicating ourselves to the global efforts to improve reproductive health for women and girls."

Increased international family planning assistance

U.S. efforts to improve the lives of women and newborns globally received another major boost December 16, 2009, when President Obama signed into law a spending bill for 2010 that appropriates $593.5 million for international family planning and reproductive health assistance and $549 million for maternal health and child survival programs, considerable increases over 2009 funding levels. In addition, the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will increase by $5 million to $55 million.

New evidence on cost-effectiveness of family planning

Just how crucial simultaneous investments in family planning and pregnancy-related care are to saving the lives of women and babies worldwide was underscored by a December 2009 study by the Guttmacher Institute and UNFPA, Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health. Citing this research, Clinton noted that "[m]ore than 215 million women worldwide lack access to the modern forms of contraception, and this contributes to the nearly 20 million unsafe abortions that take place every year." Further, only about half of the 123 million women who give birth each year receive the antenatal, delivery and newborn care they need.

The study concludes that maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70% and newborn deaths cut nearly in half if the world doubled its current $12 billion annual investment in these two critical service sets. Roughly doubling that investment (the bulk of which is currently provided by developing countries) to $24.6 billion would:

  • prevent the deaths of nearly 400,000 women and 1.6 million infants each year;
  • reduce unintended pregnancies by more than two-thirds;
  • reduce unsafe abortions and resulting complications by about 75%; and
  • bring about a host of other benefits, including reduced poverty and increased economic development in poor countries.

Importantly, the Guttmacher-UNFPA study found that investments in family planning boost the overall effectiveness of every dollar spent on the provision of pregnancy-related and newborn health care. Simultaneously investing in both family planning and maternal and newborn services can achieve the same dramatic outcomes for $1.5 billion less than investing in maternal and newborn health services alone.

Investments in women benefit family and society

Clearly, investing in women's reproductive health and autonomy always yields dividends-dividends that accrue at the individual, family and societal levels. The needed investment is modest in relation to the dramatic returns it guarantees.

In the words of Secretary Clinton, "When a girl becomes a mother before she becomes literate, when a woman gives birth alone and is left with a permanent disability, when a mother toils daily to feed her large family but cannot convince her husband to agree to contraception, these struggles represent suffering that can and should be avoided. They represent potential that goes unfulfilled. And they also represent an opportunity to extend critical help to women worldwide and the children who depend on them."

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