March 14, 2013 (C-FAM.org) – The concept of “unmet need” for contraception was invented in an attempt to induce countries to pledge billions of dollars to send contraceptives to developing countries.

Experts have denounced this measurement as baseless:


“The usual numbers bandied about for estimates of ‘unmet need’ do not correspond to any definition of ‘unmet need’ that any economist (or just common sense) could agree to. They are an advocacy construct that has been successfully used in the overall political agenda for promoting family planning.” – Harvard economist Lant Pritchett

“Let’s hope that the term ‘unmet need’ for contraceptives indeed gets replaced by ‘unsatisfied demand’ — whatever the barriers are — and that we can find better strategies to help women space births and reduce unwanted pregnancies.” –World Bank economist Berk Ozler

“A need with no demand might make sense for political activism, but not for programs or policies.” -University of California San Francisco epidemiologist Dominic Montagu

“I agree that we should stop emphasizing “unmet need” as a rationale for family-planning (FP) programs. I agree that it does not correspond to what any economist would call demand.” –international economic development professor at Georgetown University Shareen Joshi

A common theme in criticisms of “unmet need” is the fact that it does not reflect actual demand.  Women included in the totals include those who have religious or other objections to contraception.  However, with the release of updated numbers on contraceptive use worldwide, UN researchers have come up with a creative solution to the problem of squaring “unmet need” with “demand” – redefining demand entirely.

A look at their latest publication in The Lancet medical journal reveals this bit of clever wordplay:

“Total demand refers to total contraceptive use (any method) and unmet need combined.”

Rather than amending the concept of “unmet need” to more accurately reflect what women are really asking for, they’ve redefined the word “demand” to include both their original flawed term and all those who are using contraceptives with no apparent barriers to access.  Or, from the standpoint of the UN, that’s one group currently contracepting without  the apparent need of UN assistance and one group that the UN has decided ought to be doing so, whether they want to or not.

Missing from this new study is any accurate measure of what women are actually requesting, but now that “demand” has been redefined, perhaps we’ll need a new word for it.  As for what the UN is requesting/demanding, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has said $8.1 billion a year for family planning, although with the new numbers, that total is likely to increase…one form of rapid growth the UNFPA will probably see as a good thing.

This article originally appeared on the website of C-FAM.org and is reprinted with permission.