Global Financial Crisis Threatens Family Planning
The spreading global financial crisis is threatening to undermine another one of the U.N.'s major development and health goals: family planning.
United Nations officials are expressing fears that planned funding for reproductive health services may fall short of its target.
According to the latest figures released here, international donor assistance to population activities continued to increase over the years - 7.4 billion dollars in 2006 rising to about 8.1 billion dollars in 2007.
The projected funding for 2008 and 2009 was estimated at about 11.1 and 11.2 billion dollars, respectively.
"However, given the current global financial crisis, it is not certain whether donors will live up to their expected future commitments and continue to increase funding levels as they have done in the past few years," says a new report released to coincide with a weeklong session of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD).
It is possible that the final figures for 2008 and 2009 "will show decreases in levels of funding for population assistance," the study cautions.
The threat to population funding comes at a time when the United Nations has warned that its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including a 50-percent reduction in global poverty and hunger by 2015, are likely to be jeopardised by the economic turmoil worldwide.
One of the eight MDGs includes universal access to reproductive health services, along with the reduction of maternal mortality by three-quarters.
The financial targets set by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Egypt some 15 years ago do not meet the current needs that have grown dramatically over the last decade.
The HIV/AIDS crisis is far worse than anticipated, while infant, child and maternal mortality remains unacceptably high in many parts of the world.
Additionally, says the study, the value of the U.S. dollar today is far lower than it was at the time of the ICPD in 1993.
The conference also set a target of 20.5 billion dollars for 2010, but this figure is considered "simply not sufficient to meet the current needs of developing countries in the area of family planning, reproductive health, STD/HIV/AIDS and basic research, data and population and development policy analysis."
The Commission on Population and Development, which concludes its current session Friday, has been asked to review and update the figures to reflect current rising costs in health care worldwide.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS that the funding gap for reproductive health, especially family planning, needs to be urgently addressed to ensure progress.
She pointed out that donor assistance for family planning alone - as a percentage of all population assistance - has decreased from 55 percent in 1995, totaling 723 million dollars, to a mere five percent in 2007, totaling only 338 million dollars.
"If not reversed, the low funding for international family planning threatens to derail our collective efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," Obaid said.
"We will not eradicate extreme poverty, hunger and inequality, and achieve the other Millennium Development Goals, unless greater attention is paid to population issues and more resources are devoted to women's empowerment and reproductive health, including maternal health care and family planning," she added.
Currently, there are about 200 million women in the developing world with unmet needs for effective contraception, with the highest unmet needs being in Africa.
"Now is the time to re-energise voluntary family planning. There is no investment in development that costs so little and brings benefits that are so far-reaching and enormous," Obaid declared.
Anika Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA, told IPS: "It is unacceptable that in the last 20 years global funding has decreased substantially even as the need for maternal health care and family planning has increased."
She said it is encouraging that early actions by the administration of President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress "already signal a strong commitment to improving the health and dignity of women globally."
"I am hopeful that President Obama's support for UNFPA will positively impact the commitment to women's health from the world's governments," Rahman added.
Last month, the U.S. State Department announced it will contribute 50 million dollars to UNFPA - the annual funding that had been frozen for nearly eight years by the former administration of President George Bush for political reasons.
Katherine C. Hall, deputy director of the U.N. Foundation's Women and Population Programme, told IPS that "ICPD targets need to be revised in light of 2009 realities."
"No one could have foreseen how rapidly HIV/AIDS would infect various populations, particularly women and girls, nor the costs of treating those infected," she said.
Hall pointed out that current estimates of unmet needs in developing countries for family planning and the lack of progress on key indicators such as maternal mortality and morbidity illustrate the gaps that exist.