Press Release

New Report Documents Vast Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Care

3 February 2004
Author: UNFPA

LONDON—Gaps in sexual and reproductive health care account for nearly one fifth of the worldwide burden of illness and premature death, and one third of the illness and death among women of reproductive age. These gaps could be closed and millions of lives saved with highly cost-effective investments, according to Adding it Up: The Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Care , a new report released today by The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Policy makers, governments and donor agencies have vastly undervalued the diverse returns— economic and social as well as in health—such investments would bring, the report stresses. It calls improvements in reproductive and sexual health essential to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals set by world leaders in 2000.

Adding it Up was launched at a press conference here today by UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid and AGI President Sharon Camp.

The report makes the case for increased funding for sexual and reproductive health services—particularly in poor countries—by illustrating the broad societal and individual impact of investments in three key areas: (1) prevention, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; (2) maternal health; and (3) contraceptive services and supplies to prevent unintended pregnancies.

In one striking indication of the potential health benefits, the report points out that current programmes providing contraceptives to the 500 million women in developing countries who do not wish to become pregnant already prevent, each year:

  • 187 million unintended pregnancies;
  • 60 million unplanned births;
  • 105 million abortions;
  • 22 million miscarriages;
  • 2.7 million infant deaths;
  • 215,000 pregnancy-related deaths; and
  • 685,000 children losing their mothers.

The report calls attention to a severe global shortage of contraceptive services and supplies. Closing the gap so that every woman at risk of unintended pregnancy has access to modern contraceptives would cost $3.9 billion more per year, and would save the lives of an additional 1.5 million women and children annually, reduce induced abortions by 64 per cent, reduce illness related to pregnancy and preserve 27 million years of healthy life—at a cost of just $144 per year of healthy life.

The benefits of better sexual and reproductive health would be particularly great in the world’s most disadvantaged regions where the gap in services and resulting health burden are most acute: sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and West and South Asia.

While there is strong documentation of the health benefits of investment in sexual and reproductive health, non-medical benefits have up to now been undercounted, partly because they are hard to quantify and measure. The report draws on an extensive body of studies and a variety of methodologies to indicate tangible economic and social benefits.

For example, since sexual and reproductive health problems tend to affect men and women in the prime of their lives, providing sexual and reproductive health services contributes to:

  • Greater opportunity for education for all family members, particularly girls, as families become smaller;
  • A healthier and therefore more productive workforce with higher rates of savings and economic growth;
  • Higher levels of social and political participation;
  • Reduced public expenditures related to maternal health problems, family subsidies and orphan care.

Adding it Up notes that individual consumers, national governments and non-governmental organizations in developing countries are providing more than three-quarters of the money spent there on sexual and reproductive health care. Donor countries have fallen far short of the funding commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.

***

UNFPA, the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance, helps developing countries meet reproductive health needs and use population data to support sustainable development.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is a not-for-profit organization for sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education, with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Web site: www.guttmacher.org

For more information, please contact: In New York, Melanie Croce-Galis, AGI, tel.: +1(212) 248-1111, email: mediaworks@guttmacher.org, and in London, Peter Robbs, tel.: +44 1480 465328, email: peter.robbs@ukonline.co.uk.

Contact Information:

Omar Gharzeddine
in New York
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5028
Email: gharzeddine@unfpa.org

William A. Ryan
in London
Cell Phone: +66 89 897 6984
Email: ryanw@unfpa.org

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