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Women's access to reproductive health care critical to ending poverty, UN reports

Women's access to reproductive health care critical to ending poverty, UN reports

Providing women with access to reproductive health care is critical to combating poverty, argues a new report launched today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

The report, People, Poverty and Possibilities: Making Development Work for the Poor, contends that reducing the gender gap in health and education can significantly reduce personal and household poverty and generate national economic growth.

Reproductive health problems are among the main insecurities associated with poverty, according to the report, which notes that poor women have more unwanted children since they lack access to reproductive health services and information. At the same time, gender inequality often deprives women of the ability to refuse risky practices, keeps women uninformed about prevention, and puts them last in line for care and life-saving treatment.

The report calls for greater investments in universal health care and women’s education, noting that schooling for mothers has been proven to contribute more to reducing the rate of child malnutrition than improvements in food availability. Closing the gender gap in education also helps women to reduce fertility and improves child survival. In countries where girls are only half as likely to go to school as boys, there are on average 21.1 more infant deaths per 1,000 live births than in countries with no such gender gap, according to the study.

Speaking at the report's launch in New York, Jeffrey Sachs, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on the UN Millennium Development Goals, said the report underscores the fact that women's access to reproductive health services is not just a worthy goal on its own, "but an absolutely critical tool to alleviating poverty."

Reproductive health, family planning services and population policies feed into all of the Millennium Development Goals, which were set by world leaders at a UN summit meeting in 2000, Mr. Sachs said. The report shows how giving greater access to reproductive health services “is a central component of the overall struggle against poverty,” he said.

Asked about the decision by the United States administration to cut off funding to UNFPA, Mr. Sachs said, "There is a growing recognition in American politics that poverty alleviation is actually part of a national security need and strategy for the United States and for other countries as well." He voiced hope that the administration would "take a realistic view of what are the best ways to achieve poverty alleviation… and read this report."