Teen pregnancies, especially in low- and middle-income countries, often condemn young mothers, their infants, and potentially their entire family to poverty. According to the UNFPA, around 218 million women in developing economies have an unmet need for family planning, with potentially devastating impacts on their health and well-being, as well as their opportunities for education and employment. Pregnancy and complications in childbirth are the leading cause of death in girls aged 15 to 19 years of age. This is shocking since family planning is not only a human right; it is also central to women’s empowerment, reducing poverty, protecting maternal and child health, driving economic development, and achieving sustainable development.
The United Nations has explained that many of the 17 SDGs and 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda are related to women’s and girl’s empowerment, gender equality and health. While family planning is important to attain most of the goals, specific references to family planning are included in Goal 3 on guaranteeing good health and well-being for all and in Goal 5 on promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
Costa Rica is one of the 193 members of the United Nations and has a long history of promoting human rights, freedom, social equality, justice, and democratic values. This year, Costa Rica is celebrating 200 years as an independent country. Therefore, it is worth highlighting some of its key achievements. This includes compulsory education for children since 1870 for both boys and girls as equals. The country has also had a remarkably strong and internationally recognized democracy since 1889. It is putting a major emphasis on forest restoration and producing clean energy since the 1940s. It is also unique for being a country without a military since 1948. Additionally, a major highlight is universal coverage for medical care since the 1970s, with an 80-year-old national health and social security service, which is also noteworthy for a developing country.
However, in 2013 Costa Rica realized it was facing a huge teen pregnancy problem. Nationwide, adolescents’ fertility rate was 29.8 p/1000, and teenage births stood at 17.8 b/1000, with a terrible mortality rate. For this reason, the project "The Mesoamerican Health Initiative for Costa Rica" was created, and designed by a team of specialists in IABD and the Ministry of Health of Costa Rica. This plan was implemented between 2014 and 2018, with the support of Bayer and the Costa Rican Social Security Fund or CCSS, providing access to modern contraceptive options across the country.
Thanks to the successful execution of this project, the proportion of adolescent birth in Costa Rica decreased from 17.8% in 2013, to 10.2% by 2020, which represented a 7.6% drop. Respectively, the teenage fertility rate fell from 29.8 p/1000 in 2013, to 21.5 in 2018, thereby decreasing 8.3 in 5 years according to official data.
The process to reduce the adolescent pregnancy rate was possible thanks to a successful public and private partnership (PPP) between the Government of Costa Rica, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Mesoamerican Health Initiative, in addition to the support of Bayer.
On September 6, 2019, in Washington DC, we, Fernando and Matthias, had the opportunity to share this incredible success of reducing the adolescent pregnancy rate in Costa Rica with some entrepreneurs. The focus was on demonstrating interest and enthusiasm for starting a new project with a global impact.
Bayer, in collaboration with the Embassy team of Costa Rica in the US, and together with the Investment Promotion Agency of Costa Rica (CINDE), is now in the process of making this new project a reality. We are pleased to say that even the President of Costa Rica, Mr. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, and Bayer’s Board of Management were involved. After months of negotiation, both made a project announcement on October 5, 2021.
One of Bayer’s sustainability goals is to help provide 100 million women in low- and-middle-income countries with access to modern family planning by 2030, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The partnership with Costa Rica will play a big role, since Bayer will invest more than $ 450 million to build a new state-of-the-art production facility in Costa Rica for long-acting reversible contraceptives, as well as expand the production facilities in Turku, Finland.
Costa Rica and Bayer are portraying an excellent example of economic diplomacy, with a true win-win situation for all. It is important to share these experiences to demonstrate how public and private partnerships (PPP) are an amazing way to contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The international community needs to continue to put these pressing issues front and center and carry on with the discussion of how to empower women through family planning options. There are just a little more than 100 months left until the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals need to be fulfilled. Each woman counts and the time to act is now.
(Co-authored by Matthias Berringer, Senior Vice President Public Affairs, Science & Sustainability, Bayer)