By Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). On November 15th, the world’s population will hit 8 billion.
As the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, I believe the international community should view this day as a success story. After all, we have gotten to this point because people are living longer, fewer women are dying giving birth, childhood mortality has declined, and healthcare systems are getting better. While many have used this milestone in population growth—and every other before it—to focus on the climate crisis and other challenges the world faces, let us instead focus on the opportunities.
No demographic trend is solely bad or good, and with the right investments, sound policies, and advance planning, governments can empower every person in their population to achieve a good quality of life. At UNFPA, we help countries unlock this potential by helping them understand their changing demographics, project their future population, and devise policies that build healthy and inclusive societies, with a focus on ensuring rights and choices for all.
Let us address the topic most fundamental to our growing population—reproductive health and rights. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended and more than 250 million women do not want to become pregnant, but are not using modern contraception. Yet, in our research and programmes we see firsthand that providing every person with access to safe, voluntary family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. Access to contraceptives not only prevents unintended pregnancies and lowers maternal death rates, it also reduces poverty and helps people complete their education. These benefits pay dividends to the development of countries’ economies and social structures. In fact, some estimate that the long-term socioeconomic benefits of achieving universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, would yield returns of $120 for every dollar invested.
When we invest in family planning, we’re investing in girls’ futures. Teaching adolescents about their reproductive health and options improves their long-term health outcomes and lowers their chance of pregnancy and childbirth complications—the leading cause of death among adolescent girls. Together, knowledge and access to reproductive health services benefit all areas of girls’ lives, from their education to their level of autonomy in the household.
Let’s plan for a future in which all 8 billion of us can fulfil our potential. By prioritizing the issues that impact the most vulnerable, we can support those bearing the brunt of the world’s most pressing challenges. In our increasingly unequal world, we need to invest in people and the promise they hold – irrespective of their gender, race, nationality or creed. When we do, a future in which all 8 billion of us can thrive will be within our grasp.
* The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.
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