The sun is setting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In 2015, the world will shift its focus toward a new development agenda. We know that family planning improves the health and well-being of women and families around the world. Now, as the next-generation goals expand the focus from social and human development to also include economic and environmental objectives, we should not underestimate the positive ripple effects of family planning across all three areas.
Let's first remind ourselves of family planning's connection to all eight MDGs. Family planning: generates wealth and reduces hunger (MDG 1); prolongs education (MDG 2); empowers women and girls (MDG 3); saves infants (MDG 4); improves maternal health (MDG 5); prevents pediatric HIV (MDG 6); reduces pressure on the environment (MDG 7); and promotes global partnerships (MDG 8).
Moving beyond 2015, the three health-related MDGs are likely to be condensed into one goal (Ensuring Healthy Lives). It is reassuring to see that "ensuring universal sexual and reproductive health and rights" is among the five sub-targets proposed within this goal. Moreover, exciting new support for family planning has been generated by passionate champion Melinda Gates and through global movements like Family Planning 2020. This promising momentum will not realize its full potential, however, without bold, outside-the-box approaches that reach people with family planning information and services. Given family planning's wide-ranging benefits, we must now strengthen support for it in development sectors beyond health.
Sharing the evidence on the extensive reach of family planning's positive effects is a first step. Yet, equally important is raising awareness of the close linkages between challenges presented by lack of access to family planning, rapid population growth, food insecurity, environmental changes and stalled economic growth. The fastest growing regions of the world have the highest unmet need for family planning and high projected declines in agricultural production, and are the most vulnerable to climate changes. At the community level, this perfect storm presents a complex set of pressures, producing simultaneous higher demands for food, effective contraception and climate adaption. At the national level, most developing country policies acknowledge that rapid population growth inhibits their efforts to reduce extreme poverty, ensure food security, preserve the environment and improve overall standards of living.
Unfortunately, many policymakers ignore the critical role that family planning can play in tackling these obstacles. It is an oversight that could eventually be quite costly. Without investing in improved access to family planning, many fast-growing countries could erase important gains made in environmental conservation, impede preparations for climate change and reduce the returns on improvements made in education and gender equality. And, they could miss the opportunity to leverage the same "demographic dividend" that helped East Asian countries rapidly accelerate economic growth and development.
As we enter a new development era, we need to continue showing how investments in typical family planning programs can help achieve broader development goals. Furthermore, we need to work harder to promote new and innovative entry points for family planning information and delivery. FHI 360 recently evaluated models for integrating family planning into microfinance, agricultural and environmental projects and found them feasible, acceptable and effective (see the new report, Integrating Family Planning into Other Development Sectors, for more information). Through embracing integrated, multi-sectoral development solutions such as family planning, we can accelerate progress and fulfill our promises to the next generation.
Ward Cates, M.D., M.P.H., is President Emeritus with FHI 360
Tricia Petruney, M.A., is a Senior Technical Officer with FHI 360