Health, environmental, economic costs of lack of access to contraception

UNC faculty members play role in UK, Gates Foundation summit and series on family planning

July 10, 2012 — The scientific underpinning for tomorrow’s London Summit on Family Planning, a major meeting hosted by the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, relies on work done by a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Herbert B. Peterson, M.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of maternal and child health at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is the principal investigator of a grant from the Gates Foundation to develop a series on family planning published July 10 by The Lancet. The series also was supported by a Gillings Innovation Award from the school.

Peterson, who is also professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the UNC School of Medicine, led the planning, commissioning and preparation of the papers in the series with support from Kathy Biancardi, communications lead in maternal and child health.

“The articles in The Lancet series make a compelling case for the key role that family planning plays in achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals,” Peterson said. He is co-author of one of the series articles, “Contraception and Health,” and co-author with Richard Horton, Lancet editor-in-chief, of the opening comment on the rebirth of family planning.

Others who provided comments in the issue included Melinda Gates, the prime ministers of Rwanda and Ethiopia, and Jamie Bartram, Ph.D., Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of the Water Institute at UNC.

Publication of the issue precedes tomorrow’s summit, which will bring together participants from around the world, including Peterson, to mobilize global action “supporting the rights of some 120 million additional women and girls to access family planning without coercion or discrimination.”

The Lancet series shows how lack of access to family planning carries a huge price, not only in terms of women’s and children’s health and survival but also in economic and environmental terms. The series reveals startling new research findings on the effect that wider contraceptive use could have on maternal mortality rates – a reduction of 30 percent that could save more than 100,000 lives. Additionally, the series offers data on global population trends and policy options; contraception and health; connections between demographic change and climate change; economic dividends of family planning; and how human rights can be deployed to satisfy unmet needs for family planning.

The series is a product of a working group of global experts in economics, demography, epidemiology, political science and environmental science convened by Peterson at UNC in December 2010. The group included Horton and representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Population Fund and the World Bank. Their aim was to prepare the evidence base to support an issue of the journal that would focus upon population issues, family planning and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Peterson, director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Research Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health, housed at UNC, has a long history of research related to women’s health. Before joining the UNC faculty in 2004, he served as a team coordinator in the department of reproductive health and research at WHO in Geneva and chief of the women’s health and fertility branch in the division of reproductive health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Chris Perry, (919) 966-4555,

One Response to Health, environmental, economic costs of lack of access to contraception

  1. carol says:

    The free use of contraceptives is extremely important, especially in a society where economic conditions strain against an increasing birth rate. Sadly, people will still protest against this despite the fact that you are saving lives.

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