Reproductive Health

Ensure Access to Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights

In 1994 at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), governments worldwide recognized that ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and protecting reproductive rights are essential strategies for improving the lives of all people.  A core strategy to achieve the MDGs is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services for all by 2015. In 2006, The United Nations General Assembly included universal access to reproductive health by 2015 as one of the international community’s Millennium Development targets.

More than 222 million women worldwide have an unmet need for contraception.[1]

Of the 210 million pregnancies occurring each year, nearly 33 million are unintended.  These lead to approximately 21.6 million unsafe abortions, causing some 47,000 deaths annually.[2] 

Most people become sexually active during adolescence, yet most young people do not have access to prevention programs.[3]

One in ten pregnancies end in an unsafe abortion.[4]

In Africa, one in five (22%) married women of reproductive age has an unmet need for contraception. Among married women, unmet need for contraception is highest among women ages 15-24.[5]

More than half of all women of reproductive age in developing countries, approximately 818 million, want to avoid pregnancy.  In total, 215 million women have an unmet need for modern contraception. 

The current level of contraception prevents 188 million unintended pregnancies which results in 112 million fewer abortions, 1.1 million fewer newborn deaths, and 150,000 fewer maternal deaths.[6]

Roughly 52% of all people over the age of 15 living with HIV are women.[7]

Women ages 15-24 are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than men of the same age. In sub-Saharan Africa, women of the same age group are eight time more likely to be infected than men.[8]

Approximately 370,000 contracted HIV from mother-to-child transmission in 2009.[9]

At least two-thirds of all reported sexually transmissible infections occur among men and women under age 25. Many sexually transmitted infections affect the outcome of pregnancy and some are passed to unborn and newborn babies.[10]

The Costs of Poor Sexual & Reproductive Health

Worldwide, an estimated 250 million years of productive life are lost annually as a result of reproductive health problems.[11]

By investing in both family planning and maternal and newborn health services would save lives and cost $1.5 billion less than providing maternal and newborn services alone.[12]

One study estimated the economic impact of maternal and newborn mortality at more than US$15 billion annually worldwide in lost potential productivity, of which about half was associated with women and half with newborns.[13]

Maternal ill health results in much of the toll of the 4 million deaths of babies within the first month of life.[14]

Practical Solutions

Education can inform women about their bodies and give them options beyond childbearing. Of 137 million illiterate young people in the world, 63 percent are female.[15]

Fulfilling the unmet need for family planning would reduce global maternal deaths by two-thirds from 356,000 to 105,000.[16]

Access to emergency contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Treatment for HIV-positive mothers as well as their children is the most cost-effective approach, as motherless children are far less likely to survive to adulthood.

Investment in comprehensive reproductive health—contraceptive access, family planning counseling, safe abortion services—is cost-effective. Women and girls are better able to access education, have greater involvement in the community and achieve higher productivity in the workforce if there is access to health services.

WHO studies show that sex education delays the onset of sexual activity and increases safer sexual practice.[17]

Reducing gender inequality and empowering women leads to better reproductive and maternal health outcomes. Educated women are more likely than uneducated women to maternal and reproductive health services.[18]

For Further Information

Focus on 5: Women’s Health and the MDGs

Targeting Poverty and Gender Inequality to Improve Maternal Health

Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal Newborn Health


[1] Singh, S and Darroch, J. E. Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services—Estimates for 2012. Guttmacher Insitute and UNFPA. June 2012. Page 1.

[2] WHO, Unsafe Abortion—Global and Regional Estimates of the Incidence of Unsafe Abortion and Associated Mortality in 2008, 6th ed, 2011.

[3] UNFPA, State of the World Population 2005, (Accessed 5/11/2008).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Alan Guttmacher Institute & IPPF, Facts on Satisfying the Need for Contraception In Developing Countries, November 2010.

[6] Ibid.

[7] UNAIDS, Report on Global AIDS Epidemic 2010, p. 23.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, p.9.

[10] Mullick, S et al. Sexually transmitted infections in pregnancy: prevalence, impact on pregnancy outcomes, and approach to treatment in developing countries. Sex Transm Infect 2005; 81: 294-302.

[11] UNFPA, State of the World Population 2005.

[12] Alan Guttmacher Institute & IPPF, Facts on Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health, November 2010.

[13] USAID, “USAID Congressional Budget Justification FY2002: Program, Performance, Prospects – The Global Health Pillar,” 2001.

[14] Alan Guttmacher Institute & UNFPA, “Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health,” 2009, p. 13.

[15] UNFPA, State of the World Population 2005.

[16] Alan Guttmacher Institute & IPPF, Facts on Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health, November 2010.

[17] Baldo M, et al. “Does Sex Education Lead to Earlier or Increased Sexual Activity in Youth? Presented at the Ninth International Conference on AIDS Berlin,” June 6-19, 1993. Geneva WHO, 1993.

[18] Paruzzolo, S, et al. “Targeting Poverty and Gender Inequality to Improve Maternal Health,” ICRW & Women Deliver, 2010.


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