Family planning takes global stage, showing both major gains and gaps

Nurse Daniela Souza explains various contraception options to her clients in Roraima, Brazil. ©UNFPA Brasil/Isabela Martel
  • 14 November 2022

RORAIMA, Brazil/SUDURPASCHIM, Nepal – Of all Wendys Rivero’s hopes for the future, getting pregnant again is not one of them. She, her husband and their two kids currently live in a shelter for migrants and refugees known as Rondon 1 in Boa Vista, having arrived in Brazil two months ago from Venezuela. 

“I dream of stability, a future, and education for my children. My husband and I want to settle here in Brazil for a long time,” she told UNFPA at a health unit in Roraima, Brazil. “I want to work and do other things, so I need to make sure not to get pregnant.” 

Around the world, millions of people are struggling to achieve their ideal family size, with a lack of access to and misinformation about contraceptives contributing significantly to the problem. Globally, 257 million women have an unmet need for a modern family planning method. 

Discussing ways to close this gap will be a top priority at the 2022 International Conference on Family Planning, held this year in Pattaya City, Thailand, from 14-17 November. At the conference, UNFPA leaders will join international family planning organizations, researchers, governments, advocates and experts in sharing knowledge, exchanging ideas and promoting universal access to voluntary contraception. 

UNFPA strives to end unmet need for family planning by 2030. But the organization helped satisfy Ms. Rivero’s desire for protection from pregnancy a lot sooner. In September, UNFPA obstetric nurse Daniela Souza helped Ms. Rivero, whom she had met at Rondon 1, exchange her old intrauterine device for a new one. One need down – many millions to go.

Breakthroughs made – but too slowly

Over the last several decades, significant progress has been made in increasing access to and the availability of contraceptives around the world. According to the 2022 State of World Population report, global use has increased and unmet needs have declined. Today, more than three quarters of the 1.1 billion women with a desire to limit or delay childbearing are using a modern method of contraception. 

Family planning is critical – even life-saving. Research shows it plays a major part in reducing the incidence of maternal death globally. 

But the work of family planning advocates like UNFPA is far from over. Millions of people, especially those most marginalized and vulnerable, have been left behind. Most are in developing countries, where the risk of pregnancy complications and unsafe abortion ending in tragedy remain high. 

A woman looks in to the camera.
Midwife Awasthi, in rural Nepal, says her mother was pregnant 22 times – and had 18 stillbirths. Image courtesy of Awasthi.

“My mother conceived 22 times. She lost 18 babies to stillbirth either inside the womb or after giving birth,” 28-year-old Awasthi told UNFPA in the Far Western region of Nepal. “If only she had access to health services including family planning and counseling, my mother would not have had to endure so much.” 

Awasthi is now an auxiliary nurse midwife at the Kanchapur District Health Post. Her mother’s experience is what motivated her to become a health care practitioner. 

Over her lifetime, Nepal has made great strides in improving its reproductive health outcomes. The country’s modern contraceptive prevalence rate increased from 26 per cent to 43 per cent from 1996 to 2016. 

But progress has slowed in recent years, and women continue to struggle to access quality services. “There is a serious shortage in instruments and medicines in the health post,” Awasthi said.

Looking ahead

Closing these kinds of gaps will benefit not only women and girls, but societies as a whole. New estimates from UNFPA show that every dollar invested in ending preventable maternal death and the unmet need for family planning will yield $8.40 in benefits by 2050.

A woman receives medical treatment.
Nigiste prepares to receive a reversible long-acting contraceptive implant in a UNFPA-supported clinic in Ethiopia. © UNFPA/Paula Seijo

This is great news for the eight countries that committed to increasing their domestic budgets for contraceptives on the first day of the International Family Planning Conference in Pattaya. Under a new financing strategy, four of these countries will share the costs of family planning commodities with UNFPA – a shift towards self-financing and recognition that family planning is a pillar of community and national well-being.

New and exciting ways to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services and information are being piloted around the world. So while ICFP attendees will use the gathering as an opportunity to look back at the results of their health and contraception programmes, they will also look forward to innovations that can help reach those most left behind.

With the world population hitting 8 billion people during the conference, UNFPA will also recommit to leading the global fight to provide family planning for all. 

“Unfortunately, we know from experience that population concerns too often devolve into fights over women’s bodies and attempts to undermine their rights and agency,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said in August. “To this I say: not on our watch.”

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