Recap: The Role of Family Planning in Improving Maternal Health

By Kristy Birchard

At a discussion called “The Role of Family Planning in Improving Maternal Health” last Wednesday, global activists and professionals gathered to send a clear message: family planning saves women’s lives. 

via Gates Foundation on flickr
via Gates Foundation on flickr

The presentation created dialogue about the harsh realities of maternal deaths, much of which was framed out of statistics such as: 1 out of 22 women in sub-Saharan Africa will die in childbirth, 800 women die daily from complications relating to pregnancy, and that in developing countries it is common for as many as 2.5 million women to share the same obstetrician.

The most heartbreaking one: 90% of maternal deaths are preventable with access to adequate care. Access to resources, transportation to medical facilities, and adequate equipment are completely out of reach in so many parts of the world.

The organizations on the panel (CARE, USAID, Every Mother Counts, and Marie Stopes Uganda) have been sending this message and working for this important cause for years. The presenters at the panel stressed their goal of “increasing access to voluntary family planning services key to the success of Millennium Development Goal 5, which calls for reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health services.” In 2008, United Nations officials said:

Family planning is a critical element to improving maternal health. “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.”

The common factor throughout all of this: lack of money equals lack of care. Jessica Bowers, of Every Mother Counts, stressed that funding for international family planning is the lowest cost intervention maternal health initiative with the highest returns (social and economic). Family planning directly reduces poverty. Many organizations such as USAID and the United Nations have taken a stance that poverty reduction funding should include family planning initiatives:

Common sense suggests that poor reproductive health outcomes- such as early pregnancies, unintended pregnancies, excess fertility (when actual births exceed desire fertility), and poorly managed obstetric complications- would increase the chances of remaining poor. While many researchers have demonstrated the effects of poverty and reproductive health outcomes, fewer have focused on the reverse relationship. Robust, the compelling evidence linking good reproductive health to poverty reduction would support efforts to include it in country-level poverty reduction strategies and in the allocation of international poverty reduction funding.

-Poor Health, Poor Women: How Reproductive Health Affects Poverty, Margaret E. Greene

We know that effects of poverty are disastrous. This panel reminded us that preventative maternal health care and family planning will save money, and family planning must be included in foreign aid attempts at eradicating poverty. There is substantial proof that global family planning measures are effective and necessary. John Cooper, of Marie Stopes Uganda, explained MSU’s successful programs in parts of rural Uganda. In 2012, as a result of their integrated and community-based voucher program, 259,703 unintended pregnancies and 880 maternal deaths were averted and $12,177,167 in direct healthcare costs was saved. These voucher programs give women the ability to choose their contraception and get post-maternal visits and the feedback from the women has been overwhelmingly positive. Access to these resources allows women to have control over their life and gives them the ability to feed and take care of the children they already have. With the funding, these kinds of programs can reach more women by the minute. Study after study shows them to be effective and essential to global aid.

By Kristy Birchard

Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Campus Organizer for Feminist Campus.

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