Contraception, a life-saving investment for the Philippines

Posted at 04/20/2009 12:39 AM | Updated as of 04/20/2009 12:42 AM

Opposition to contraception is hurting the Philippines. Each year, more than half of the 3.4 million pregnancies in the country are unplanned, resulting in high costs to women, their families and the national health care system. In addition, this very high rate of unintended pregnancy is impeding the Philippine’s development goals.

Yet this is not an epidemic for which there is no known solution. Unintended pregnancies are highly preventable if women have access to voluntary family planning information and services, particularly modern methods of contraception.

Worldwide research has shown that investing in contraception significantly improves public health, while also saving money and bolstering national economies. To calculate just how great the return on that investment would be for the Philippines, the University of the Philippines Population Institute and the New York City-based Guttmacher Institute recently teamed up to conduct a cost-benefit analysis.

The findings were dramatic and build a strong case for increased spending on contraception nationwide. Researchers found that expanding access to modern contraceptive methods as well as natural family planning in the Philippines would result in 800,000 fewer unplanned births, 500,000 fewer induced abortions and 200,000 fewer miscarriages each year. It would prevent the deaths of 2,100 women—nearly half of all deaths from pregnancy related causes—and prevent the cumulative loss of 120,000 healthy years of women’s lives that are currently shortened or impaired as a result of unintended pregnancies.

Fulfilling the demand for contraceptives would particularly benefit poor women, who represent the largest segment of women with unmet contraceptive needs. The 35% of Filipino women aged 15-49 who are poor account for more than half (53%) of the unmet need for contraception.

Providing modern contraceptive services to all women at risk of unintended pregnancy would raise annual family planning costs from P1.9 billion to P4 billion. However, the study found that the medical costs associated with unintended pregnancy, including treating the consequences of unsafe abortion, would fall dramatically—from P3.5 billion to P600 million—resulting in a reduction of P2.9 billion in these costs and a net savings of P0.8 billion. These savings could then be used to improve and expand a range of health and social services, making it much more possible for the Philippines to achieve its development goals.

Ultimately, it comes down to a very simple question—whether we trust women and their partners to decide what is best for themselves and their families. The evidence is clear that investing in contraception saves lives and money. But most of all, the reason to invest in voluntary family planning is to let women decide when to become pregnant and how many children to have. If we succeed in this goal, the payoff will be great for Filipino women, their families, their communities and society overall.

That’s why donors, nongovernmental organizations, medical professionals and policymakers need to work together to advocate for increased investment in contraception. They also need to ensure that services and supplies are equitably distributed throughout the country. Investing in contraception is investing in healthier families and a stronger, more developed Philippines.

Sharon L. Camp
, PhD, is president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, an independent research and policy institute in the field of sexual and reproductive health.

Josefina V. Cabigon, PhD, professor, University of the Philippines Population Institute