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World Population Day Promotes Family Planning

The United Nations is highlighting the benefits of family planning to mark this year's World Population Day. The United Nations says family planning enhances the well being of families, communities and nations by improving maternal health, gender equality and poverty reduction. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

There are 6.7 billion people and that number is expected to grow to 9.2 billion in the next 40 years. Many of the children will be unwanted and will add to the hardships experienced by many families.

The United Nations reports around 200 million women around the world say they want to delay or prevent pregnancy, but are not using effective contraception.

The United Nations says family planning has immediate benefits for the lives and health of mothers and their infants. Studies show it could reduce the 500,000 maternal deaths annually by a third and could also prevent 2.7 million infant deaths a year.

Despite these grim figures, UN Population Fund in Geneva Director Siri Tellier tells VOA great progress has been made in family planning. She says five percent of women used contraception in 1960, but that number increased to 60 percent in 2000.

"Fertility is declining all over the world. If you look back to 1960, women in the developing world were having on average six children. Now, it is on average three children. So, that is a huge change," said Tellier. "As I say, there are great regional variations wherein Africa it has not come down that far and in some countries it may even be going up again. But, on a global level, that is an enormous change ... Child mortality has come down. Twenty years ago, maybe 15-million children under five were dying every year. Now, that is down to less than 10. That is tremendous progress."

Tellier says fewer children are dying, mainly because they have access to better food and vaccinations to immunize them against killer diseases. Unfortunately, she says neo-natal death rates are not coming down. She says this is because the things that kill mothers, such as obstructed labor, also kill their babies.

The United Nations reports every minute, somewhere in the world, a woman dies in pregnancy or childbirth, and 20 more suffer disability. It says 99 percent of the more than 500,000 maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

Tellier says three actions will help reduce these deaths.

"One of them is simply that women have skilled attendance at birth ... The second thing is access to emergency obstetrical care. Some of the conditions that happen during childbirth, for example, hemorrhage, excessive bleeding-that may be something that a skilled birth attendant cannot cope with," she said. "You would have to go to a hospital and you would have to go there within two hours to be able to get the blood transfusions that might be necessary for that. And, the third one is family planning."

The United Nations says between 20 and 30 percent of married women in 24 sub-Saharan African countries do not have access to contraceptives.

Statistics show the risk of a woman dying from pregnancy-related causes during her lifetime is about one in seven in Niger. This is compared to about one in 4,800 in the United States and one in 17,400 in Sweden.