As the world grows, a call for improved access to family planning

A new UN report published Thursday projects the world’s population will rise to 9.6 billion by 2050 from 7.2 billion today.

The bulk of this growth will occur in developing countries, the report says. More than half of the rise is expected to occur in Africa alone — in countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where women have five or more children, on average.

The new estimate is higher than the previous projection, published in 2011, by about 300 million.

John Wilmoth, the director of the population division in the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs attributed the higher revised numbers mostly to more robust data on fertility rates.

“Small differences in the trajectory of fertility over the next few decades could have major consequences for population size, structure and distribution in the long run,” Wilmoth said in a press release.

Adrian Raftery, a professor at the University of Washington who worked to develop the statistical methods used by the UN, said in a news release, “These new findings show that we need to renew policies, such as increasing access to family planning and expanding education for girls, to address rapid population growth in Africa.” 

Family planning advocate Population Action International responded to the news by emphasizing the importance of improved reproductive health care.

“Right now, 222 million women in the developing world lack access to modern contraception,” said Suzanne Ehlers, Population Action International president and CEO, in a press statement. “The fact that any woman does not have the tools to decide the size of her family is absurd.” 

“Our growing population represents not only a challenge, but a big opportunity for more and more women to take charge of their lives,” wrote Ehlers in a subsequent blog post

Ehlers pointed to a 2012 Guttmacher Institute study that found that meeting the women’s need for modern contraception in the developing world would cost $8.1 billion. “Of that, the U.S. share is $1 billion,” Ehlers wrote.

In his most recent budget plan for Fiscal Year 2014, President Obama proposed $534 million for family planning and reproductive health. This was a moderate 1.3 percent increase over fiscal year 2012, the most complete comparable number, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. 

While the 2014 budget numbers are still being hashed out in Congress, the House has already proposed drastically lower cuts to foreign aid assistance, and by extension, the global health budget

In an interview earlier this year, Craig Lasher, director of government relations at Population Action International, said the organization was pleased with Obama’s 2014 request but supports a greater amount in line with the $1 billion it says is needed.

“We’re a special target,” said Lasher, of the US budget. “Not only we do suffer from overall budget reduction pressures that affect everyone, but there’s particular animosity directed at family planning and reproductive health programs.”

Meanwhile, as with other budgets, the fate of the family planning and reproductive health line hangs in the balance.

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