Progress Made in Improving Reproductive Health Services, AIDS Education, But More Effort Needed, Report Says
Although nations worldwide have made some progress in improving women's reproductive health and human rights, many countries still have a "long way to go" in order to meet the goals set at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, according to a report released Tuesday by Population Action International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Family Care International at the Countdown 2015 conference in London, Reuters reports (Reuters, 8/31). Several nongovernmental agencies are holding the conference to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 conference. During the Cairo conference, 179 countries approved a plan to enhance the reproductive health and rights of women throughout the world. Targets set at the Cairo conference aim to provide family planning options and education to prevent unwanted pregnancies as a way to reduce world poverty and hunger and improve women's rights in developing countries (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 8/27).
The report ranked 133 countries with populations of more than one million on criteria such as maternal and infant mortality, total fertility rate, abortion policies and HIV prevalence to gauge progress since the Cairo conference, Reuters reports. The report cited 23 countries -- including Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines -- as having made the most progress over the past decade on the goals laid out at the Cairo conference, particularly regarding improved access to contraception and education. However, other countries -- including Portugal, the United States, Kuwait, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Senegal -- have made "little or no progress" in maternal health, HIV/AIDS prevention and education and access to and funding for contraceptives over the past 10 years, according to Reuters. Currently, 123 million couples worldwide do not have access to contraception, according to the report (Reuters, 8/31). The report also says that "too little attention" has been focused on preventing pregnancy and STDs among adolescents, according to the New York Times. In addition, HIV/AIDS prevalence is "exploding" among women and children and the number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth worldwide remains high, according to the document, the Times reports. However, the groups during a press conference on Tuesday said that they must overcome several obstacles to improve women's rights, including a "strain" on resources because of the HIV epidemic and "resistance from religious fundamentalists," according to the Times (Alvarez, New York Times, 9/1). One in 10 pregnancies worldwide end in "unsafe" abortions, which kills one woman every seven minutes, the report says, according to Reuters (Reuters, 8/30).
"I do believe we have made tremendous progress from Cairo," FCI President Jill Sheffield said (New York Times, 9/1). However, Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, said the three areas in which countries are failing to make progress -- maternal health, HIV/AIDS prevention and education and access to and funding for contraceptives -- are "critical" to reaching the goals of the Cairo conference. "Giving a woman access to reproductive health services and information is the surest way to help her avoid sexually transmitted infections. This would also save her from unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion," Obaid said (Reuters, 8/31). "When women have opportunities, it changes everything," PAI President Amy Coen said, adding, "Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights transforms lives: a woman's life, her family's life, and, in turn, the social and economic life of her entire country" (PAI release, 8/31).
Conference attendees also planned to examine the ramifications of the withdrawal of U.S. financial support from international reproductive health services. The Bush administration bars U.S. money from international groups that support abortion through direct services, counseling or lobbying activities under policies such as the so-called "Mexico City" policy (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 8/27). In July, the Bush administration said that for the third consecutive year it will withhold funding for UNFPA, saying that because the organization works in China, it indirectly supports the Chinese government's policy of coerced abortions to maintain a goal of one child per family (Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 7/28).In addition, the administration has been criticized for promoting abstinence-only education over condom use, particularly in countries most affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. "In a reversal of its historic role, my own country has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles to progress," former Sen. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.), who is president of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Campaign, said, adding, "On issue after issue, the current administration has placed ideology above evidence and bias above science. Isn't it shameful that so many of the men talking about the sanctity of life are, by their actions, ignorance and prejudice, effectively condemning women to die?" (New York Times, 9/1).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on the conference. The segment includes comments from Coen; Sheffield; Obaid; Fred Sai, former chair of the conference; and Gita Sen, professor of economics at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and research coordinator on alternative development frameworks for Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (Harris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 8/31). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded NPR coverage is available online.