Published on Investing in Health

Family Planning: Investing in women’s health and empowerment to build human capital

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Investing in Universal Health Coverage (UHC) so that every person has access to quality, affordable health services is a critical step towards building a country’s human capital. And as part of UHC, every woman and child should be able to access quality health services at a price they can afford, and are able to use them when needed. This includes access to comprehensive reproductive, maternal, newborn child and adolescent health services, including family planning.  

At its core, modern family planning is managing when and how many children a woman will have over the course of her life. Family planning methods, which include modern contraceptives and voluntary sterilization (for either men or women), provide women, and their partners, greater control over their lives. In doing so, family planning especially allows adolescent girls and women the chance at better health, greater opportunities for higher education and productive employment, and ability to explore their own potential. 

Family planning saves lives. But how? Adolescents are twice as likely to die due to pregnancy related complications compared to women over 20 years of age. Children born to adolescents are also more likely to have a low birth weight, ill-health, stunting and other poor nutritional outcomes. Through giving all women (and their partners) a reliable way to space births, to allow women to decide what is best for them, and a family size that the household can provide for, family planning prevents unnecessary maternal and infant mortality, and secures better nutrition for newborns and other children in the household. A recent study on lives saved in South Africa estimates that a 0.7% annual increase in use of modern contraceptives would lead to 7000 fewer infant and child deaths and 600 fewer maternal deaths by 2030.

Family planning along with other interventions like delayed marriages and access to education, empowers women and girls to have more control over their lives and well-being. It helps them achieve their potential – academically, professionally, and in their personal lives. And this has a cascade effect – children of educated mothers, for instance, are more likely to get an education themselves – further building the human capital of a country. 

Modern contraceptives are not just a family planning tool. For girls and women who experience very long, irregular, or painful periods, monitored use of modern contraception by qualified health personnel can help to regulate periods, reduce pain, and shorten the duration of bleeding. This helps women to have better physical and mental health, miss less school, and be more engaged in daily life – further contributing to their empowerment and human capital potential.

Family planning interventions are also cost effective. The return on investment for meeting the demand for family planning and  maternal and newborn services is US$ 120 per every US$1 spent. The overall cost for unmet reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health services combined with family planning services is much lower than when these services are implemented separately. At current estimated levels, this amounts to an additional investment of US$12.1 billion annually to completely meet the need for modern contraception for all women globally. A recent study focusing on India and Nigeria estimated that India could potentially reduce its overall household expenses by US$ 89.7 billion and Nigeria by US$12.9 billion by the year 2030 if the countries were to meet their Family Planning 2020 commitments.

The positive long-term consequences of family planning at the household levels holds the key for better health outcomes for women and their children, as well as their social and economic empowerment. 



Sameera Al Tuwaijri

Lead Health Specialist, World Bank

Seemeen Saadat

Consultant, Gender, Health, and Inclusion

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