World Bank Announces Five-Year Plan To Reduce Maternal Deaths, Fertility Rates In 58 Low-Income Countries

During the release of its five-year plan to help drive down high maternal death and fertility rates in low-income countries, the World Bank on Tuesday said “that family planning and other reproductive health services have fallen off the radar of many governments, donors and aid agencies,” Reuters reports.

Under its Reproductive Health Action Plan (.pdf), the World Bank will increase its lending in 58 countries to help expand access to contraceptives, prenatal visits, educational programs for women and girls, and training for health workers on common causes of maternal death (Wroughton, 5/11).

“Globally, more than 350,000 women die each year because of pregnancy and childbirth complications. Last year, 99 percent of these deaths occurred in developing countries,” according to a World Bank press release. “Thirty-five poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions (Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and Yemen) have the world’s highest birth rates (more than five children per mother), while also reflecting some of the world’s poorest social and economic results, with low levels of education, high death rates, and extreme poverty,” the release notes.

“A mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth is not just a human tragedy. It’s also an economic and social catastrophe that deprives her surviving children of nurture and nutrition and too often of the chance of education,” Julian Schweitzer, acting vice president of Human Development at the World Bank, said in the release (5/11).

Though “[b]ank health financing tripled to a record $4.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 ending June, a 40 percent increase over the previous year’s record … lending to reduce high fertility or improve access to family planning accounted for only 4 percent of the Bank’s health portfolio over the last decade, dropping by two-thirds between the first and second half of the decade,” Reuters continues (5/11).

“[N]ew Bank figures [also] show that while development aid for health soared from U.S. $2.9 billion in 1995 to U.S. $14.1 billion in 2007, roughly a five-fold increase in 12 years, aid for population and reproductive health had increased more modestly during the same period, from U.S. $901 million in 1995 to U.S. $1.9 billion in 2007,” according to the release. “In the 35 highest-fertility countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, aid for women’s family planning and reproductive programs started at U.S. $150 million in 1995 and increased to U.S. $432 million in 2007, while overall aid for health in these 35 countries went from U.S. $915 million in 1995 to U.S. $4.9 billion in 2007,” the World Bank found (5/11).

In related news, Inter Press Service reports that “more than 200 million women in developing countries still have an unmet need for modern contraceptives” 50 years after the birth control pill was approved in the U.S. “According to UNFPA, about 190 million women become pregnant every year, at least a third of them unintentionally,” the news service continues. “And nearly 50 million women resort to abortion every year, with about 19 million procedures performed under unsafe conditions, while an estimated 68,000 women die each year as a result.”

The piece includes comments by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), Donald Collins of the Guttmacher Institute, and Tamara Kreinin, executive director of the United Nations Foundation’s (UNF) Women & Population Programme, who discuss the connection between family planning and international development and how increasing access to birth control in developing countries can improve women’s health and control population growth (Deen, 5/11).

Religion News Service examines how international development specialists are reaching out to Muslim clerics to help educate populations about family planning. Such “efforts come at a time when many Muslim countries have slashed their fertility rates from six or seven children per woman to two or three – Pakistan, the world’s second-largest Muslim nation, has reduced its fertility rate to 2.48 children per woman, even as its population grows by more than 3 million each year,” the news service reports.

“Those same countries, however, face population growth that experts say could, if left unchecked, overwhelm resources, jeopardize health, increase poverty, and result in violence and international stability,” according to RNS.

The piece examines the views of religious leaders on both sides of the contraception debate and ongoing efforts of health experts to communicate with religious leaders about contraceptives as a means of protecting congregants from health complications from pregnancy or birth-related deaths (Sacirbey, 5/11).

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