Making contraceptives accessible to save women’s lives

Conversations for a Better World | May 21, 2010

The Pill has touched the lives of many people but – like so many other technologies – remains an unknown luxury to around 200 million women, the majority of whom live in developing countries.

Unintended pregnancy is a major public health concern that endangers the lives of women and children and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. The percentage of women who do not want to get pregnant but are not using any type of contraceptive method, the “unmet need,” is alarmingly high across the globe.

Giving women access to contraceptives is a low-cost, far-reaching investment in women’s health, wellbeing, and economic empowerment. In the US, the introduction of the Pill and alternate forms of safe and effective contraception decreased the average birth rate from 3.6 in 1960 to below two in 1980. When women can determine whether to have children and how many, they are more likely to be able to lead healthier lives, be more productive, take better care of their families, and escape the cycle of poverty.

Today, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services and information is the leading cause of ill health and death for women of reproductive age. Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5, part of the eight Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000, demands a three-quarter reduction in maternal mortality rates from 1990 to 2015. Research has shown that reduction of maternal mortality is feasible if it rests on three pillars: reduction of unwanted pregnancies, access to skilled attendants and to emergency obstetric care. As part of the concerted effort to reduce the scandalous high rates of maternal mortality, MDG 5b entails reducing unwanted pregnancies by achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015. Accelerating the progress of all of the MDGs will require strong investments in comprehensive reproductive health services including access to contraception (including the Pill,) comprehensive sexuality education, and access to safe abortion services.

IPPF and partner organizations have launched a year-long initiative: A Promise is a Promise – Universal Access to Reproductive Health, to raise awareness among decision-makers at the national, regional, and international levels on the urgency of MDG 5b, and on the gaps and challenges impeding its achievement. While we celebrate the gains that contraception has made possible in some women’s lives, we must use this landmark anniversary to address the growing need for family planning in developing nations.

Carmen Barroso
Regional Director
International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region

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