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Family planning vital to improving maternal health, UN officials say

Family planning vital to improving maternal health, UN officials say

Family planning is a critical element to improving maternal health, one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) or global targets world leaders have pledged to achieve by 2015, senior United Nations officials said today, urging that women everywhere have access to this vital service.

In messages to mark World Population Day, which is observed annually on 11 July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) noted that improving maternal health – MDG 5 – is lagging the furthest behind among all the targets.

“The rate of death for women as they give birth remains the starkest indicator of the disparity between rich and poor, both within and among countries,” Mr. Ban said.

He noted the three basic interventions necessary to improve maternal health: skilled attendance at the time of birth, facilities to provide emergency obstetric care and family planning.

“Studies show that family planning has immediate benefits for the lives and health of mothers and their infants,” he stated. “Ensuring basic access to family planning could reduce maternal deaths by a third and child deaths by as much as 20 per cent.

“And yet the benefits of family planning remain out of reach for many, especially for those who often have the hardest time getting the information and services they need to plan their families, such as the poor, marginalized populations and young people,” he said.

The Secretary-General called on governments to honour the commitments made at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, when they agreed that all couples and individuals have the basic human right to not only decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, but also to have the information, education and means to do so.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid joined that call, stressingthat maternal death and disability could be reduced dramatically if every woman had access to health services throughout her lifecycle, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

“Today millions of women lack access to health services, which puts their lives at risk,” she stated. “Now is the time to accelerate action to ensure that health services reach women in the communities in which they live.”

Ms. Obaid added that family planning is also essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality. “When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the rest of her life.