COMMENTARY

Family Planning: a Cornerstone for Public Health and Sustainable Development

Paul D. Blumenthal, MD, MPH; Lynne Gaffikin, DrPH

Disclosures

October 22, 2007


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Family planning programs are among the most successful "public" health interventions of the 20th century, based upon the incontrovertible link between improved maternal health and child, family, and community health.[1] The public's health, especially in rural areas of developing countries, is also strongly affected by natural resource quality, availability, and sustainable use. However, the contribution of family planning to these more resource-related public health determinants has been underappreciated -- and in some circles, even purposefully discounted.[2] These factors stand in the way of realizing the potential for family planning interventions to deliver meaningful individual and public health benefits.

Family planning programs have evolved far beyond their initial purpose of controlling unsustainable population growth. They have developed into complex systems of interventions designed to meet the needs of people and society. The 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) highlighted the value of family planning to the reproductive health of individual women.[3] However, the resource-related contribution of family planning to the health of the public at large has yet to be applauded in the same way.

The relationships between health, natural resource utilization, poverty, and economic development are complex. But, whichever of these issues one chooses to emphasize, family planning interventions are a "necessary but not sufficient" part of the solution. As health practitioners, it is our mandate to address the "necessary" part of the equation. We can do this by ensuring that family planning programs are technically and programmatically appropriate. In doing so, we should also argue for the various ways that such programs benefit the health of a population.

That's our opinion. I'm Dr. Paul Blumenthal, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Deputy Editor of Medscape General Medicine.


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