Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Stories Behind the Statistics: A Generation's Future Depends On Contraceptive Access

August 22, 2012

This post is part of our monthly series, Stories Behind the Statistics, guest edited by FHI 360 on behalf of USAID’S IYWG, which provides technical leadership to improve the reproductive and sexual health of young people. 

There is one action that we, as a world population, could take today to change our future more than any other single action. 

We could lift millions of people of all races and both genders out of poverty throughout the world.  By doing this action, we could significantly decrease the number of premature deaths, as well as the number of lives claimed by deadly infections like HIV.  Accessibility to food and medications for people living in developing countries would increase, and the quality of life for millions more people would be drastically improved.  This single action, if done in conjunction with the major governments of the world, would complete all of this and more.  The action: improving access to contraceptives.  

More than 700,000 women and newborns die every year during or shortly after birth of an unintended pregnancy.  While contraceptive access can be a controversial topic here in the United States, where I live, other developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, have realized that this is an international health issue. In some developing regions, more than 60 percent of young women report that they lack proper access to contraception that they would like to use.  If that number were in the single digits, our world would be a much different place.  Women would be able to put off childbirth until they were both emotionally and financially ready.  They would also be able to plan the spacing of their children and the size of their family, increasing their chances of rising out of poverty.  Adequate access to condoms would also greatly reduce a young woman’s chances of being infected with HIV.

Contraception isn’t cheap, not by a long shot.  Data from the Center for American Progress suggest a woman in the United States can expect to pay well over $10,000 in her lifetime for contraception.

If she doesn’t have insurance for all or even just part of her life, that cost quickly comes closer to $70,000.  This overwhelming burden can hurt the people who need birth control most: impoverished women and young people.  In almost every country in the world there is a growing, and unmet, need for low-cost contraception. 

This issue should not be controversial.   The future of my generation truly may rely on the fate of contraceptive access.  

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