(January 2009) International public health assistance and policy has largely focused on challenges such as HIV/AIDS and malaria in recent years, and family planning programs have often been overlooked. Despite a common misperception that global population growth has halted, an enormous and growing need for family planning exists. This need, along with a basically favorable policy climate among developing country governments, suggests that now is the time for increased investment. Five former directors of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health Program urge immediate action on family planning funding in the report, Making the Case for U.S. International Family Planning Assistance.

Listen to an interview with Steven Sinding (14 minutes).

The authors argue that investing in family planning provides substantial returns, not only by reducing unintended pregnancies and saving millions of lives, but also by making progress toward antipoverty and development goals. Elizabeth Maguire, a PRB trustee, president and CEO of Ipas, and one of the authors of the report, explains: “First and foremost, family planning is a fundamental human right. All women and couples must be able to determine the number, spacing, and timing of their children and have ready access to information and services to exercise this basic right. Once women are empowered to make their own reproductive decisions, they are better able to exercise other fundamental rights and to realize their aspirations. Family planning programs not only save and enhance women’s lives, but they have an important impact on child survival, the well-being of families, and the achievement of broader development goals.”

The report urges the new Obama administration to act and restore U.S. leadership in global family planning by more than doubling allocations to USAID family planning programs from the 2008 level of $457 million to $1.2 billion in 2010, and $1.5 billion in 2014. “We hope that this report will result in greatly increased appropriations for USAID’s international population assistance program which has been woefully under-funded for the last eight years. The report is receiving widespread distribution and we hope will be a wake-up call for other governments and donors to help meet the large and growing unmet need for family planning throughout the developing world.” says Maguire.

Steven Sinding, a senior scholar at the Guttmacher Institute and director of the USAID Office of Population from 1983 to 1986, spoke to PRB about the need for increased focus on family planning, the successes of previous family planning programs, and his hopes for the report’s impact. Click on the link above to listen to the interview.

Eric Zuehlke is an editor at the Population Reference Bureau.