In its latest report, ‘The State of World Population 2012’, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) summarises some of the main consequences of this situation, which include exclusion from education for many adolescent girls and a higher risk of poor health for infants and children. One study found that spacing pregnancies by three to five years could reduce infant deaths by 46% in developing countries.
An estimated 80 million unintended pregnancies will occur worldwide in 2012, with half likely to end in an abortion. By widening access to family planning, forecasters say a significant proportion of unplanned pregnancies and abortions could be avoided, reducing the burden on families and health services.
The authors of the UNFPA report believe that 8 billion dollars would be needed to supply family planning to those who currently lack it. Some progress has already been made to fund extra services. In July this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organisations managed to garner 2 billion dollars in funding commitments from developing countries and another 2.6 billion dollars from donor countries to bring voluntary family planning to an additional 120 million women and adolescent girls by 2020. However, agencies admit that much more support and commitment is needed from within developing nations.
Changing attitudes towards family planning are taking place in some countries, especially where resources are already overstretched. Niger is one such country. Its population has risen from 2 to 15 million over the last half-a-century and currently rises by over 3% each year. Now political and religious leaders are openly discussing how increased use of family planning and the spacing of children can ensure healthier offspring and a more sustainable population growth. The issue isn’t only on the agenda at a national level, but is also being discussed within local communities.
At the present time, Niger has the highest fertility rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with women bearing an average of seven children. The UNFPA report suggests that by reducing high fertility rates, Niger and other African countries could significantly help their economies. Apart from bringing benefits at a national level, the report also concludes that family planning delivers “immeasurable rewards” to individuals and their families, by allowing women and children to live healthier, longer lives.