In October, the global population is set to reach 7 billion. If we fail to acknowledge the voices of poor women and provide access to universal family planning, the projection is for the global population to grow to 10.5 billion.
The challenge of providing basic services in countries across Africa, like Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger and Uganda – where the populations will at least double, sometimes triple and, in Niger, quadruple – will be immense.
Globally, around one-third of pregnancies are unintended. Some 215 million women in the developing world say that they would like to delay or avoid pregnancy, but do not have access to modern family planning methods.
Meeting the unmet demand for family planning is not only integral to reducing the global fertility rate and the rapid growth of the world’s population, but it is also one of the most effective ways we can tackle the scandal of maternal mortality in the world’s poorest countries.
Last year, on a visit to a health clinic in Rwanda, I watched women queue for pregnancy tests and cheer when the results were negative – when they realized they would not have to risk their life by having a baby.
The reality is that, among the poorest women, high fertility is inextricably linked to high maternal mortality. Our shared mission is to start to change that reality.
The U.K. government is putting women and girls at the heart of its international development efforts. Our strategy – Choices for Women – sets out a vision for the developing world where all women are able to exercise choice regarding the size and timing of their families, where no woman dies giving birth and where all newborns survive and thrive.
We are doubling our efforts for women’s and newborn’s health in order to save the lives of at least 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth, and 250,000 newborn babies, by 2015.
Working with partners like PSI, British aid will enable at least 10 million more women to use modern methods of family planning by 2015, contributing to a wider global goal of 100 million.
Family planning is cost effective and saves women’s lives. Globally, meeting the unmet need for family planning could avoid around one-third of maternal deaths and one-fifth of newborn deaths, and save an estimated US$5.1 billion.
There is also overwhelming evidence of the wider benefits of family planning. For example, if a woman is able to wait three years between giving birth, the chances of her baby dying in its first year are greatly reduced.
Improving reproductive and maternal health is the linchpin of poverty eradication. It is only through giving women greater choice and access to family planning and safer births that we will lift communities from desperate poverty.
I am proud that the U.K. government is working with PSI and a range of other donors and organizations to give women in the developing world the same choices that they have in the U.K.