School plays key role in launch of Lancet series on family planning

July 10, 2012
Increasing access to family planning will play a central role in achieving United Nations targets for maternal health, eradication of poverty, education, and gender equality, according to a major new Series on Family Planning published July 10 by The Lancet.
Dr. Herbert B. Peterson

Dr. Herbert B. Peterson

Herbert B. Peterson, MD, Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Maternal and Child Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine, played a key role in the series, leading the planning, commissioning and preparation of the papers published today with support from Kathy Biancardi, the department’s communications lead. Peterson is the principal investigator of a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the series, which also was supported by a Gillings Innovation Award from the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Publication of the issue precedes a major meeting hosted by the United Kingdom and the Gates Foundation – The London Summit on Family Planning – on July 11 – and provides the scientific underpinning for the effort. The summit brings together participants from around the world, including Peterson, to mobilize global action “supporting the rights of some 120 million additional women and girls to access family planning without coercion or discrimination.”

The Lancet series shows how lack of access to family planning carries a huge price, not only in terms of women’s and children’s health and survival but also in economic and environmental terms. The series reveals startling new research findings on the effect that wider contraceptive use could have on maternal mortality rates – a reduction of 30 percent that could save more than 100,000 lives. Additionally, the series offers data on global population trends and policy options; contraception and health; connections between demographic change and climate change; economic dividends of family planning; and how human rights can be deployed to satisfy unmet needs for family planning.

In December 2010, Peterson and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health hosted a working group of global experts in economics, demography, epidemiology, political science and environmental science that included Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, and representatives from The World Health Organization, United Nations Population Fund and The World Bank. The group’s aim was to prepare the evidence base to support an issue of the journal that would focus upon population issues, family planning and achievement of the Millenium Development Goals.
“The articles in The Lancet series make a compelling case for the key role that family planning plays in achieving the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals,” Peterson said. He is co-author of one of the series articles, “Contraception and Health,” and co-author, with The Lancet editor, Richard Horton, of the opening comment in the journal titled “The rebirth of family planning.” Others who provided comments in the issue included Melinda Gates, the prime ministers of Rwanda and Ethiopia, and Jamie Bartram, PhD, UNC’s Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of The Water Institute at UNC.
Peterson, director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Research Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health, housed at UNC, has a long history of research related to women’s health. Before joining the UNC faculty in 2004, he served as a Team Coordinator in the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO in Geneva and Chief of the Women’s Health and Fertility Branch in the Division of Reproductive Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Lancet series is available online at


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or