World set to miss contraception goal leaving millions of women behind

KIGALI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An ambitious goal to boost the number of women using modern contraception by tens of millions by 2020 is falling far behind, said experts on Monday who say family planning helps prevent unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.

The number of women in poor countries using modern birth control rose by 46 million over the last six years to 317 million, according to a report released at a meeting of family planning experts held in Rwanda.

But to reach the goal of an additional 120 million by 2020, another 74 million women would have to start the practice in the next two years, said the report issued by FP2020, a global partnership of governments, donors, advocacy groups and others.

“We’re not on track to achieve that goal,” Jason Bremner, director of data and performance management at FP2020, the group that set the target for the world’s 69 poorest countries.

“I think it was very ambitious,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the four-day conference. “We understand growth and what it takes a lot better now.”

Obstacles to using contraception range from religious and cultural resistance to legal barriers, lack of government funding and inadequate education, experts say.

“Countries are just not doing enough,” said Manasa Priya Vasudevan, program manager for India’s YP Foundation which advocates for the rights of girls and young women.

“You’d be surprised at the lack of information that young people have, even with regards to something as simple as birth control pills and condoms,” she said. “All it requires is a walk to the pharmacy.”

The numbers of women using modern contraception, which may include implants or sterilization but not rhythm or withdrawal methods, have grown quickly in African countries but more slowly in Indonesia and Bangladesh, Bremner said.

Experts say with family planning, lower birthrates leave more resources for education and boost women’s participation in the labor force, helping break cycles of poverty.

More localized efforts have proven more effective than international initiatives, said Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

“My feeling is that women accept the choices when it’s coming from a familiar trusted source,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Before, there was a little tone of outsiders trying to preach, no matter how well-meaning.”

Money is an issue, she added. The UNFPA faces a shortfall of $350 million over the next three years, due in part to a 2017 decision by the United States to end its funding. In 2016, U.S. contributions to UNFPA totaled $69 million.