Unmet Contraception Needs & Maternal Mortality: the Challenges of MDG 5

MDG Goal 5 in improving maternal health is easily the MDG that has received the least attention and is the least likely to be actualized. With most of international donor funding for health going to AIDS and infectious diseases, maternal health has taken a backseat and 99% of maternal deaths occur in developing countries (an estimated 800 women a day orphaning even more children, according to the World Health Organization).

Birth control has been mooted as one method to improve maternal health in developing countries. When properly used, it reduces health risks by delaying first pregnancies, which carry higher risks in very young women; cutting down on unsafe abortions, which account for 13% of all maternal deaths in developing countries (according to most estimates); and controlling dangers associated with pregnancies that are too closely spaced.

In a recent study funded by the Gates Foundation and published in the Lancet, it is estimated that fulfilling unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third. As reported in the New York Times, the authors of the Lancet study found that the number of maternal deaths in the countries surveyed in 2008 would have nearly doubled without contraception. They also found that an additional 29 % of the deaths could have been prevented if women who wanted birth control would have received it. The implications are tremendous. With the London Summit on Family Planning organized by the British Government and the Gates Foundation, the stage should hopefully be set for a paradigm shift and new thinking about the imperativeness of improving access to and attitudes towards contraception.

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