Context: Periodic assessments between 1972 and 1999 found consistent increases in the intensity and types of effort exerted by national family planning programs in developing countries. An updated evaluation was needed to examine whether these trends have been affected by recent changes in the family planning environment, such as decentralization, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and funding reductions.
Methods: In 2004, informants in 82 developing countries completed a questionnaire that assessed 30 dimensions of program effort and included several new scales to explore current issues. Selected results were compared with findings from prior rounds of the study.
Results: Family planning effort increased between 1999 and 2004, both globally and within regions. When the data were weighted by country population size, effort declined slightly overall but increased in four of six regions. Countries with low initial scores improved more than those with high initial scores. Contraceptive access varied by region and was lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The strongest justifications for programs were improving maternal and child health and preventing unwanted births. Changes in funding were often judged to have had negative effects on programs. Unmarried youth and women receiving postabortion care received the least emphasis among special populations of interest.
Conclusions: Although average program effort scores have risen again, increases in effort, funding and access to contraceptive methods are still needed in many countries, especially in rural areas and among the poor. More emphasis should be placed on providing postpartum and postabortion family planning services.