Five former USAID officials ask Obama for leadership on family planning

Posted: 22 January 2009

Five former directors of the Population and Reproductive Health Program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have urged the new Obama administration to move quickly to restore US leadership in global family planning.

The former directors issued a joint report, Making the Case for US International Family Planning Assistance, as Barack Obama takes office as president. The report argues that US investment in family planning assistance programmes overseas must more than double as soon as possible if global anti-poverty and development goals are to be achieved amidst the worldwide economic downturn.

In their report, the five development experts documented "enormous pent-up and growing unmet need" for family planning information and services in developing countries, where governments are already struggling to provide enough jobs, education, health care and other services for their populations and poverty is rising.

At the same time, they said, interest and investment in family planning by the US and other donor countries have stagnated or declined, "in part from the (mistaken) belief that rapid global population growth has halted; from diversion of resources to other needs...and from lack of understanding that family planning is not only essential for women's health but also a critical part of any successful economic development strategy."

The five co-authors successively directed the USAID Population and Reproductive Health Program across Republican and Democratic administrations from 1978 through 2006. They argued that this use of scarce resources provides substantial returns in both the short and the long term, contributing to the new administration's goal of reducing unintended pregnancies and saving millions of lives in the process.

The 22-page report recommends allocations to USAID of $1.2 billion in FY 2010 for family planning, up from $457 million in FY 2008, rising gradually to $1.5 billion in FY 2014. "This would represent an appropriate American contribution to international efforts to achieve the global consensus Millennium Development Goal target of universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning, by 2015," the report said.

USAID should use the funds to expand its training and existing successful programs, to equip more health care providers, to open programs in additional developing countries, to assure continued technical innovation and to boost funding for global organizations providing family planning, the report said. It also called for resuming US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, both of which had funding cut off under the Bush administration.

Authors of the report, their years of service as Directors of USAID's Office of Population, and their current work are: J. Joseph Speidel (1978-1983), now an adjunct professor at the University of California at San Francisco; Steven Sinding (1983-1986), now Senior Fellow at the Guttmacher Institute; Duff Gillespie (1986-1993), now a professor at Johns Hopkins University; Elizabeth Maguire (1993-1999), now President and CEO of Ipas; and Margaret Neuse (2000-2006), now an independent consultant.