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Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 12:23 GMT
Contraception 'key to poverty trap'
A family in DR Congo
Smaller families are the key to wealth, the UN Says
Government spending on birth control and women's health makes developing countries richer, the United Nations says.

Such spending has been responsible for up to one-third of the annual economic growth of East Asian "tigers", as well as Brazil and Mexico, according to a report by the UN Population Fund.


There is a vicious circle that links fertility with poverty

Thoraya Obaid, UN Population Fund

The report says that since 1970, developing countries that have cut birth rates and slowed population growth have registered faster growth.

Allocating funds to health, education and the advancement of women and girls was a crucial part of achieving that fall.

Parts of South Asia could benefit in the same way from about the year 2015 if investment in women's health is made now, the study's authors say.

But, the report contends, the world's poorest 50 states - mainly in Africa - will need outside help over the next few years if they are to benefit from falling birth rates.

Examples

The study says that if more children survive infancy, women will choose to have fewer of them.

Sex education campaign
Sex education has helped cut birth rates

The UN said Brazil, where fertility has declined over the last 50 years, was an example of such a success, and that Mexico and other Latin American states had followed its example.

By contrast, in developing countries where poverty, poor health and fertility remain high, the population has tripled since 1955 and is expected to nearly triple again over the next 50 years.

In 1980, just under 19% of the word's population lived in absolute poverty.

The UN says if net fertility worldwide in the 1980s had been cut to the same extent it was in many Asian countries, global poverty would have fallen to 12.6% by 1990.

'Vicious circle'

Rich countries contributed less than a quarter of the total spent on basic reproductive health programmes in the developing world, and only paid half the sums of money they had pledged.

Total spending on such programmes in 2000 was $10.9 billion - $6.1 billion less than had been promised.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the UN FPA, told the Associated Press news agency: "There is a vicious circle that links fertility with poverty.

"To fight poverty, you can't just talk about economic growth by itself.

"You need to have investment in the social sector in the area of health and education so that that it can contribute to economic growth."

She added: "Due attention has to be given to health and education as real engines that can change the situation."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The time to invest in women's health is now"
Alex Marshall, report author
"We found that moving towards gender equality helps economies"
See also:

19 Nov 02 | South Asia
28 Nov 00 | Health
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