Heads up! You may not have this on your calendar, but we’re entering the 1,000-day countdown to the UN Millennium Development Goals, a massive global experiment that set a deadline of 2015 to end poverty, stop AIDS, and provide universal primary education, among a few other minor items.
The looming deadline is sharpening global conversations like the one happening right now in Kuala Lumpur with 4,000 luminaries from almost 150 countries, including Melinda Gates and Ban-Ki Moon. The hosting organization, Women Deliver, is focused on the rights and health of women and girls, once again bringing home the message that women’s well-being is the best investment philanthropic money can buy.
A new report by the World Bank, released to time with the meeting, brings home that message in a different way. An additional $12 billion, over and above what we’re currently spending, would be the cost to bring sufficient contraception, prenatal nutrition, trained birth attendants, postpartum assistance, emergency obstretrics, and other components of maternal and newborn care to women around the world.
Now, $12 billion is a lot of money. But not only would this prevent unnecessary suffering and death, there is a financial payoff as well. Because women make up 40% of the labor force in the developing world, the improved health outcomes from such an investment would boost productivity by a projected $15 billion, while smaller family sizes could go a long way toward reducing some of the worst hunger and poverty. Not to mention, children who get a healthier start go on to get better education and live longer, healthier, more productive lives.
Family planning, long a political hot potato, is front and center in this discussion, with Women Deliver spending the entire second day of their meeting focusing on it. Although the so-called “Gag Rule” preventing aid organizations that receive U.S. government funding from even discussing contraception and abortion is a thing of the past, some organizations have been afraid to accept U.S. money in case it is reinstated in the future. Tying maternal and infant health directly to economic payoffs is clearly meant to make family planning seem less controversial and political, and more like plain common sense.