The cost of preventing women from dying in childbirth is projected to increase sixfold by 2030, requiring billions of dollars to achieve global targets, according to the UN.
The estimate was released by the UN population fund (UNFPA) on Thursday, offering a snapshot of the scale of the challenge the agency has set itself to end preventable maternal deaths by 2030.
Researchers at UNFPA and Johns Hopkins University calculated that the annual cost of direct services, such as paying for medical staff, drugs and supplies when a woman is giving birth, will reach $7.8bn (£6.2bn) by 2030, up from an estimated $1.4bn last year.
Donor aid for maternal healthcare fell between 2013 and 2017, from $4.4bn $3.9bn.
The projected figure, which takes into account rising population as well as the cost of current interventions and scaling up services, is based on requirements in the countries with the highest number of maternal deaths. It does not include the logistics of getting women to health centres, the barriers they face to access services, or other associated costs.
The most recent figures provided by the World Health Organization, which date back to 2015, showed the global maternal mortality ratio to be 216 deaths for every 100,000 live births. The number increased to 436 in the world’s least developed countries. The WHO is expected to update the figures later this year.
The UNFPA said the projections, presented in New York, should be a wake-up call for governments. The agency hopes the updated estimate will drive more funding from donors and the private sector.
“We want to show the facts to stakeholders that this is the situation,” said Tharanga Godallage, monitoring and data specialist at the UNFPA.
“It’s a call to action … We need to accelerate [progress] as we only have 11 years left.”
The agency also projected that the annual cost of meeting the growing need for modern forms of contraception would almost double, from $2.3bn in 2018 to $4.5bn by 2030.
The UNFPA, working with Johns Hopkins, Victoria University, the University of Washington and global health organisation Avenir Health, will present more detailed cost projections on maternal health, family planning, ending female genital mutilation and child marriage at a November summit in Kenya to mark the 25th anniversary of the landmark international conference on population and development held in Cairo. Projections for individual countries will also be produced to encourage governments to increase their health budgets.
In 1994, 179 leaders adopted a programme of action that emphasised the centrality of women’s empowerment in tackling population growth and development, as opposed to focusing simply on family planning. More than 200 recommendations were agreed, covering issues such as access to decent reproductive health services, sexual health advice and support, and the elimination of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage.
The summit in Nairobi will assess the gaps in provision and, the UNFPA hopes, garner political and financial commitments to implement the programme of action and meet the sustainable development goals.
The conference comes amid a considerable global backlash against women’s rights, and reproductive rights in particular.
Speaking to the Guardian last month, Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA’s executive director, said women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights needed to be “elevated to front and centre” to achieve the SDGs.
“We have to respond to the challenge on [women’s] rights,” she said. “While the SDGs are aspirational, they are also a blueprint to what human society needs in order to survive and thrive… full gender equality is of benefit to women certainly, and also a benefit to everybody.”
Last Friday, the US government confirmed that, for a third consecutive year, it would not fund the UNFPA under provisions in the Kemp-Karsten amendment. The amendment prohibits foreign aid to any organisation deemed by the US administration to be involved in coercive abortion or forced sterilisation. In a statement on Monday, the UNFPA strongly denied it supported either.
The statement said: “UNFPA does not perform, promote or fund abortion, and we accord the highest priority to universal access to voluntary family planning, which helps prevent abortions from occurring.
“UNFPA opposes coercive practices, such as forced sterilisation and coerced abortions, and has spoken out against instances of such human rights abuses.”
The statement added that the administration had yet to produce evidence to justify the “serious claims made against its work”, and reiterated an invitation for US officials to visit its offices in China.
Enacted in 1985, the Kemp-Karsten amendment has been used by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W Bush to stop funding the agency. Funding was resumed under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
In 2016, the US contributed $69m to the UNFPA to help cover the agency’s core costs and provide short-term support for projects in humanitarian settings. In 2015, the US was the agency’s third largest bilateral donor, contributing $75m to its operations.