World needs family planning access as population nears 7B

The world's population will hit seven billion by the end of October, the United Nations Population Fund says in a new report that stresses the importance of family planning.

Birth control unavailable to 250 million women who seek it

Sharouq, 19, left, Mona, 17, centre, and Hossam, 19, right, head to a concert in Cairo. The world's population is getting younger, and already unmet needs for family planning will increase along with the percentage of young people in the world, according to the UN Population Fund. (Guo Tieliu/UNFPA)

The world needs better access to family planning services and contraception as it approaches seven billion inhabitants, a UN agency said Wednesday.

The United Nations Population Fund said in a new report that the world's population is expected to hit seven billion on Oct. 31, and too many people don't have the means to control their fertility.

"We must ensure that reproductive health services and family planning are better funded and that they become available to everyone who wants them," said Alanna Armitage, director of the UNFPA office in Geneva.

Canada, despite its $1.1-billion Muskoka initiative to fund maternal and child health, has so far only directed 1.7 per cent of that money to family planning, said Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development.

"There are 250 million women who want family planning globally and they're not getting it," he said. "This unmet need for contraception will grow by 40 per cent by 2050 with the largest generation of young people ever entering their reproductive years."

International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda said Wednesday morning that family planning is an integral part of Canada's Muskoka funding.   "We believe that this initiative will actually help many, many women around the world," she said.

The UN agency is releasing a report that says it's time to plan for more growth so that young people are engaged and contributing to their communities, and the elderly are healthy and engaged.

Under-25s close to half of population

While people under 25 years old make up close to half — 43 per cent — of the world's population, life expectancy is climbing. The global average life expectancy in the 1950s was 48 years, climbing to 68 by the end of the last decade.

Infant mortality plunged from about 133 deaths in 1,000 births in the 1950s to 46 per 1,000 in the period from 2005 to 2010, the report says.

Women's fertility, meanwhile, has dropped from an average of six children to a more manageable 2.5, which the report chalks up to "countries’ economic growth and development but also because of a complex mix of social and cultural forces," including greater access by women to education, paid work and contraception.

But the world still adds an extra 80 million people to its population each year, about the same number of people who live in Germany or Ethiopia.

The report says reproductive health options are essential and must be built into countries' budgets.

UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin, former minister of health in Nigeria, refers in the report to a decision by the U.S. under Republican administrations to allow condom distribution in developing countries for HIV prevention, but not for family planning purposes. They can serve both purposes, so it makes little sense to compartmentalize them or to pay for them from separate budgets, he wrote.

Osotimehin says some governments have not always made family planning a priority and haven't honoured women's rights.

Sex education is also key, the report says.