Funding Unmet Need for Family Planning: Following Through on the Commitment 20 Years Later

Stephen Goldstein

CCP | Senior Consultant

I was startled to see in a recent Lancet paper by Babatunde Osotimehin that fully meeting the family planning needs of people in developing countries—of current users and women with unmet need—would cost about US$8.1 billion annually. Currently, writes Osotimehin,“donors, developing countries, and households are investing some US$4 billion, which leaves a shortfall of about US$4.1 billion” each year.

PAI: Family Planning: The Smartest Investment We Can Make


Image redrawn from Population Action International, Family Planning: The Smartest Investment We Can Make

Osotimehin, who is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA, urges governments of developing countries to commit significantly more of their own regular budgets and other resources to provide contraceptive information and services. In addition, “Donor countries need to step up their contributions to family planning to fulfill their commitments made at the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).”

One piece of good news for the funding picture came out of the recent London Summit on Family Planning when international donors and foundations pledged an additional US$2.625 billion dollars to reach 120 million more women with an unmet need for family planning by 2020. Developing country partners, including those in India, Indonesia, Malawi, and Nigeria, pledged an additional US$2 billion. These pledges, according to the London Summit Press Release, mean that by 2020, some 200,000 fewer women will have died in pregnancy and childbirth, there will be 110 million fewer unintended pregnancies, over 50 million fewer abortions, and nearly three million more babies will survive their first year of life.

The pledges announced in London, if they are indeed met, will help toward meeting the unmet need for family planning over the next eight years, but this still leaves a huge annual funding gap for the millions of women who are currently using contraceptives and who want to continue to be able to plan how many children they want and when to have them.  

Another solution would be for the world’s richest countries to fulfill the overseas assistance targets of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) they pledged at the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 and reiterated by the ICPD program of action in 1994. The US, for example, while providing the most dollars of any country for international development assistance (see chart), still only gives 0.2% of its gross national income (GNI) per year to international development—far below the 0.7%  it and other western countries pledged (Foreign Aid for Development Assistance). Only Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, and the Netherlands surpassed the 0.7% target. The other 18 “developed countries” failed to meet the promised commitment yet again in 2011.

Only by meeting all these commitments will the term “unmet need” for family planning become obsolete. Let’s hope by the time ICPD + 20 arrives in September 2014, the UN General Assembly will be able to set out an agenda to sustain family planning requirements far into the future.  

For those working to renew emphasis on family planning in Africa, see the tool developed by the World Health Organization and USAID that provides the latest family planning data and trends, ready-to-use messages, and suggested activities for reaching out to and involving target audiences.