Opinion

18 August 2014

Expanding Sexual, Reproductive Health to Score Development Goals

By UN Population Fund Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

With just 500 days left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we must all intensify our actions to hit our targets, especially the MDG 5 targets to reduce maternal death and achieve universal reproductive health.

There is no time for complacency when 800 women and girls continue to die each day of pregnancy and childbirth complications, and more than 220 million women who want to plan their births continue to lack modern contraception.

To speed up progress, I am excited about a new public-private partnership that plans to save an additional 140,000 women and 250,000 newborns and significantly increase access to reproductive health services, including modern contraception, by the end of 2015. We are working together governments, the United Nations system, civil society and the private sector guided by a roadmap, we unveiled last month, to accelerate maternal and newborn survival.

I am confident that with the right investments, we can meet the health-related development goals. The interventions set out in the roadmap have demonstrated their potential for impact within the remaining time. We must speed up work to:

• Strengthen health systems by improving access to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health commodities

• Improve health workforces, especially in midwifery and integrated sexual and reproductive health and HIV services

• Reach those with the least access, the most marginalized, disadvantaged and under-served populations, including women and girls in crises

• Focus on the 48 hours surrounding childbirth, when mother and baby face the most risk

• Uphold the principles of equity, gender equality, human rights and dignity.

We know that the empowerment of women to make informed choices, the prevention of violence against women and girls, and ending gender-based discrimination are critical to improving the health of women.

We also know that adolescent girls have a higher chance of dying in pregnancy and childbirth, yet face grave barriers to life-saving information and services. If all 222 million women and girls who wanted to plan their pregnancies had access to modern contraceptives, 80,000 maternal deaths could be prevented every year. Providing modern contraceptives to 30 million women and girls by 2015 would save 80,000 newborn lives.

Together with partners, UNFPA is scaling up reproductive, maternal health and family planning support to 15 countries with the greatest unmet need, sharpening focus on poor and marginalized women and girls, and strengthening action in humanitarian settings.

We are building on past gains. By working together, we have almost halved maternal deaths since 1990, from 523,000 maternal deaths to 289,000. We have improved maternal health services and family planning supplies, trained health workers, and we have better data on available contraceptives, and reduced stock-outs.

In 2013, UNFPA contributed to the potential prevention of 9.5 million unintended pregnancies, 6.4 million unintended births, 27,300 maternal deaths and 1.1 million unsafe abortions. More health centers have broader availability and choice of contraceptives and life-saving maternal health medicines. Voluntary family planning is increasingly being prioritized at the highest levels of national policies, plans and programs and more developing countries are allocating resources for modern contraceptives.

Despite steady progress, achieving the maternal health development goal remains an unfinished agenda. Projections warn us that an additional 139,000 women's deaths must be averted and 30 million more women must gain access to modern contraceptives during 2015, if we are to reach our targets.

UNFPA is working with partners to reach 120 million women and girls by 2020 and 30 million by 2015 with modern contraceptives as agreed at the 2012 London Family Planning Summit. We are committed to achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and the protection of reproductive rights so that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person can reach their potential.

The Roadmap to Accelerate Achievement of Maternal and Newborn Survival provides a comprehensive action plan across the spectrum of reproductive, maternal and newborn health to intensify efforts to achieve by 2015, the development goals (4 and 5) of reducing child death and improving maternal health. But to reach our targets, accelerated investment is urgently needed.

This is not only an investment worth making. It is also a crucial step to improve the health and well-being of women and children, reduce poverty and advance sustainable development.

This op-ed was originally published on the Huffington Post.