A series of studies published by The Lancet medical journal say, “Worldwide, the burden of disability and premature death due to sexual and reproductive health problems is enormous and growing.” VOA’s Joe De Capua reports.
The Lancet Sexual and Reproductive Health Series was coordinated by the World Health organization. It examines family planning, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections and sexual behavior. The goal is to raise awareness among policy and decision makers, medical researchers and other professionals.
Among the findings, “More than 120 million couples have an unmet need for modern contraception; and an estimated 80 million women have unintended or unwanted pregnancies.” The studies say 45 million of those pregnancies end in abortion.
Stan Bernstein is a former senior policy advisor for the UN Millennium Project and current advisor to the UN Population Fund. He calls family planning one of the great development success stories of the last 50 years. However, he says the benefits are being lost.
“We’ve seen contraceptive use in developing countries go up from around 10 percent around 1960 to around 60 percent today. But after decades of progress, voluntary family planning is becoming a neglected tool in the battle against poverty in low-income countries. Donor support has declined both relative to other population investments and in absolute terms. But the gains to be derived from investment in family planning and strong political support for family planning programs remain important and available to be reached,” he says.
Bernstein says the poorest are being left behind.
“Reductions in fertility and population growth, voluntarily made, make possible more rapid economic development growth, as the size of working age populations grows more rapidly relative to the size of the new births that are coming in. When many of these births are unwanted or ill-timed the tragedy of blocked development becomes even worse,” he says.
In many African countries, he says, contraceptive use remains below 10 percent, while fertility, population growth and unmet need remain high.
“Unmet need refers to that proportion of women at risk of pregnancy, who want to avoid another pregnancy or delay a birth at least two years, and are not currently using family planning,” he says.
The UN Advisor says in Africa, only the “wealthiest groups” are able to decide how large or small their families should be. Bernstein adds the health benefits from an increased use of family planning are clear.
“In countries with high birth rates, family planning has the potential to avert 150,000 maternal deaths a year, about 32 percent of all maternal deaths,” he says.
Many of those deaths are attributed to unsafe abortions. What’s more, the studies say nearly 10 percent of child deaths could be avoided as well through family planning. That’s a result of longer periods between pregnancies allowing for higher birth weight and better health conditions for newborns.
Bernstein says increased investment in family planning is a “powerful tool” for increased development and should not be neglected.
To view The Lancet studies on this and other topics in the series, go to www.int/reproductive-health.