Universal access to reproductive health care is the focus of this year's World Population Day, which is being observed on Wednesday.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says investing in reproductive health care facilities "is a crucial investment" in healthy societies and "a more sustainable future." Noting that world population has tripled since the U.N. was founded, he estimates that some 222 million women in developing countries lack access to effective family planning.
Dr. Dhammika Perera, an advisor on global reproductive health programs at the International Rescue Committee, tells VOA that providing women with access to modern contraceptive methods is key to reducing rates of maternal or infant mortality, especially in conflict areas.
The IRC says women in crisis zones are more likely to die in childbirth than those in poor but stable countries, because health care clinics are often destroyed or abandoned or access to them is blocked by violence.
Perera says, although many women in conflict areas may be more concerned with daily survival, it is also a fact that agreeing on the number of children to have may help avert hunger and poverty.
"So, that’s why we try to give couples the knowledge and the access to the contraceptive method that they can choose for themselves and control the family size, according to what they know is sustainable, and that, in the long term, prevent these issues of having to worry about food, worry about livelihood and child education and providing health care for children," said Perera.
He says evidence shows, if women could space their pregnancies by two years, it could reduce child deaths under five years old by 10 to 15 percent.
Perera says the IRC is always considerate of the cultural sensitivities in the regions in which it operates.
“We make it a point to work not just on providing women access or focusing only on women, we work with community leaders, we work with religious leaders and we engage men in a big way," he said. "Almost always, we work with the ministries of health and, through collaboration with the government, we get information about what is accepted and what is not and then we adapt our program accordingly.”
According to the U.N., World Population Day has been observed annually since 1989. It focuses attention on the importance of population issues in the context of development plans and programs, and the need to find solutions.