This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released its 2013 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health. This is the fifth iteration of this type of survey and overall, Americans’ basic level of support for U.S. spending on global health has remained steady over the last few years.  For those working in the global health community, it is not surprising to hear that Americans believe the amount the U.S. spends on foreign assistance is much higher than the actual figure. On average, Americans believe 28 percent of the federal budget goes toward foreign aid. The reality? It’s less than 1 percent. 

Interestingly, the survey found that when it comes to the rationale for foreign aid on global health, most Americans see it as a moral imperative. Forty-five percent of Americans think the U.S. should invest in improving health for people in developing countries “because it’s the right thing to do.” This response ranks well above responses related to improving diplomatic relationships, creating new markets and ensuring our national security.

Only 31 percent of respondents felt reproductive health and family planning should be a top priority.

Despite fairly broad support for global health investments writ large, reproductive health and family planning do not enjoy the same level of support. When the survey delved into specific priority areas within global health, only 31 percent of respondents felt reproductive health and family planning should be a top priority. In comparison, access to clean water and children’s health were ranked as top priorities by over 60 percent of survey respondents. This perception of reproductive health as a lower priority is further reinforced by the 24 percent of respondents who indicated that it is “not that important.”

Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that 76 percent of Americans agree that family planning is an important health concern. These figures raise questions about how we can improve our ability to communicate the critical role of family planning in improving the overall health of women and children.

We, the reproductive health community, have not succeeded in demonstrating how family planning clearly contributes to the health of women, children and families around the world.  How would reproductive health rank as a priority if the average American knew that access to family planning could alone:

  • prevent up to 30 percent of maternal deaths;
  • save the lives of more than 2 million infants and children each year by preventing closely spaced births;
  • and enable 222 million women who want access to contraception, to have the same choices as American women?

The results of Kaiser’s 2013 survey demonstrate that we need to do more to clearly articulate the real benefits of investing in family planning in the developing world.