Family planning and other reproductive health services for women have fallen off the development radar of many poor countries, donors and aid agencies, according to the United Nations and the World Bank, which are warning of the impact this will have on already high maternal mortality rates.
New preliminary figures from the World Bank show that official global development aid for health increased from $2.9 billion in 1995 to $14.1 billion in 2007, or roughly a five-fold increase in 12 years.
During the same period, aid for population and reproductive health made a more modest increase from $901 million to $1.9 billion.
The global economic crisis has compounded the lack of funding for such programmes, thereby jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for maternal health, which is already lagging behind.
“With the financial crisis and the reduction in budgets for health, this goal will be even harder to realize,” Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said at a meeting at the World Bank, ahead of this year’s World Population Day, observed on 11 July.
“It is not a lack of knowledge that is hindering progress; it is a lack of political will to protect the health and rights of women,” she stated.
UNFPA estimates that more than 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth from mostly preventable and treatable medical problems. For every woman who dies, another 20 women suffer injuries and disabilities that can last a lifetime.
Africa has the world’s highest rates of maternal mortality – at least 100 times those in developed countries, the agency adds.
Joy Phumaphi, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, said the global economic downturn has become a development emergency for women because they are among the first to suffer when crises strike. But the troubles did not start with the onset of the financial crisis.
“Even before this crisis began, family planning and reproductive health had fallen off the radar of low-income countries, aid donors, and development agencies — with the result that we’ve lost precious time in helping women get access to these vital health services, and helping countries get on a faster track to reducing poverty,” she stated.