Family Planning: An Effective Approach to Cost Containment

| November 17, 2011 | 0 Comments

UN photo courtesy of Rick Bajornas.

Vishal Arora
Health Policy Columnist

This past week, there were mixed reactions regarding recent data from the United Nations numbering the world population at 7 billion.[1]  Some might welcome this announcement as evidence of advancing healthcare technologies and the provision of essential medicines worldwide.  On the other hand, this sharp increase in population size sheds light on the fact that more individuals might become exposed to conditions such as drug or food shortages, particularly in developing countries with rapid growth.  Although organizations such as USAID have boasted impressive numbers on the delivery of essential medicines, sooner or later costs will increase with population growth.[2]  Funding organizations, especially in this global economy, will have a more difficult time being able to finance care for an even broader population base.

What is notable about this population surge is that it is concentrated in developing nations.  These rapidly growing countries include Niger, where women bear 7.6 children on average and per capita income is $691, and Uganda, with 6.69 children per woman on average and per capita income of $500.[3]  With an increasing population and very little economic growth, it is virtually impossible for their economies to survive.  So how can policymakers address this trend?  Research demonstrates that one of the most cost-effective strategies in this situation is to expand family planning services through NGOs.[4]

The economic effects of this policy goal would be immense.  First off, women who are encouraged not to start a family until financially ready would practice safer sex or abstinence.  Consequently, the rate of HIV infection may subside, reducing the need for antiretroviral treatment.  Secondly, donors who are already under tight financial constraints would not feel pressure to pledge more money and set unrealistic treatment goals for the following years.  Lastly, if fertility rate was somewhat controlled in these developing countries, citizens in those regions would experience less financial stress to support more family members.

Of course, family planning by educating solely women is not sufficient.  In many countries social norms, particularly male-female relationships, can also contribute to increasing fertility rates.  For example, in some political and social environments, women might not enjoy equal liberties, particularly in regards to safe sex practices.  Furthermore, if men have multiple sexual partners, this raises the chance that women will contract sexually transmitted diseases, increasing the need for life-saving medicines.  Both of these outcomes are economically inefficient, adding to costs for governments and donors alike.  Therefore, public health education and family planning services should be integrated into public policy agendas, containing costs more effectively.

The issues that arise from population growth is delicate, albeit necessary to confront in the coming years.  We know that the effect of increasing population rate will be increased food and medical costs for countries.  To solve this issue, the economic effect of family planning and public sex education would be significant, but at the same time, policymakers and implementing parties have to be careful with communicating these programs in environments unfavorable for women’s liberties.  Lastly, with any economic issue, one particular sector such as NGOs should not be alone in combating costs from population growth.  Rather, this public health approach to cost containment has to be addressed by a broader network, integrating donors to governments and citizens themselves.


[1] “As world passes 7 billion milestone, UN urges action to meet key challenges .” UN News Centre. United Nations, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <>.

[2] USAID Policy. USAID, 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <>.

[3] U.S. Department of State: Diplomacy in Action. U.S. Department of State, Oct. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <>.

[4] Miller, Kate, Robert Miller, Ian Askew, and Marjorie C. Horn. “Clinic-based family planning and reproductive health services in Africa: Findings from situation analysis studies.” Oct. (2000). Print.

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