The international community is spending too much on diseases like AIDS and TB and not enough on family planning, a British expert on sexual and reproductive health told the annual conference of the UK’s Optimum Population Trust. Professor Judith Stephenson, of University College London, called for a global fund to invest in family planning, like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "People have taken their eye off the ball and think the job has been done. But there is a lot of unmet need for contraception, and this is highest in the poorest sections of society."

Oddly enough, there seems to have been little reaction to Professor Stephenson’s contention that world health leaders have raided the coffers of the fight on fertilty for funds to fight AIDS. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Pope was pilloried for expressing scepticism about the wisdom of funding AIDS campaigns.

The OPT’s conference produced a rich harvest of absurdity, self-justification, and self-contradiction. It was promoted with a startlingly insightful headline on the conference press release: "Sex drives world population growth". John Guillebaud, an Emeritus Professor of family planning and reproductive health at UCL, said that people engage in sex more often than they need for the babies they want. Therefore there must be a vast unmet need for contraception.

He used an unfortunate example to illustrate his point: Iran, where the average number of children fell from 5.5 to 2 in just 15 years. The local mullahs had endorsed edicts requiring all couples to learn about family planning before they marry.

He seems oblivious to Iran’s abyssmal track record on women’s rights. Writing in the London Times in early March, the Iranian woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, Shirin Ebadi, said

"The law looks disfavourably on Iranian women – literally with a male face. Since the 1979 Revolution Iranian women have been forbidden from serving as judges. In Iran a woman's evidence in court is worth half that of a man. Men can have multiple wives, while young girls can be married off to older men by their fathers. Sentences of stoning to death for adultery are still imposed, disproportionately on women, a practice denounced as grotesque and horrific by Amnesty International."

Has the OPT filled in the dots between human rights abuses, low status of women and wildly successful Iranian family planning programs? Apparently not.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.