UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin today called on the international community to “increase investment in maternal and newborn health” to prevent women from dying due to pregnancy-related causes in Africa.
Addressing a symposium titled “Family Planning and the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) at the 5th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama, Dr. Osotimehin said “the direct funding and political support for family planning has fallen over the last 15 years” despite the fact that Africa can reduce the level of maternal death by up to 30% through fulfilling the unmet need for contraceptive.
He noted that “family planning not only save lives but contributes to improved health, strengthens communities and stimulates economic growth” adding that government and development partners should make commitment at the London Family Planning summit to double the proportion of resources targeting family planning a reality.
According to him, family planning is one of the most cost effective interventions for reducing maternal mortality as there is evidence to show that increased contraceptive use in developing countries has cut the number of maternal deaths by 40 per cent over the past 20 years.
Dr. Osotimehim assured the international community of UNFPA’s commitment to continue to support maternal health programmes in Africa towards ensuring that no woman dies while giving life.
Contributing to the symposium, the President of Malawi, Mrs. Joyce Banda said family planning reduces health risks of women and sexually-active girls and gives them more control over their reproductive lives.
She noted that “with better health and greater control over their lives, women can take advantage of education, employment and civic opportunities. Families with fewer children are often able to send those children to better schools so girls get a chance to attain higher education, and as an outcome, the age of at first marriage is often later and their years of fertility reduced”
The President of the Republic of Liberia Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated that family planning contributes to alleviating poverty and accelerating socio-economic development.
“At national level, rapid population growth resulting from high levels of unmet need for FP often outstrips economic growth and undermines a country’s ability to offer adequate educational, health, and other social services to its people” she said.
Over 200 national and foreign dignitaries attended the symposium, including the Director General of IPPF, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the media and academia.
Africa has the highest maternal mortality ratio in the world, with 57 per cent of all maternal deaths occurring on the continent. Although there has been some progress in the past couple of years, with 41 per cent 1990 and 2010. A total of 189,000 of the 358,000 maternal deaths that occur globally every year still take place in Africa.
For any pregnant woman in sub-Saharan Africa, the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications is 1 in 39, compared to the industrialized world, where it is 1 in 4,700.
Although the global under-five mortality rate has fallen by one third since 1990, Africa continues to suffer from the highest rates of child mortality, with one in eight children dying before the age of five—nearly 20 times the average of 1 in 167 for more developed regions. An estimated 30 per cent of these under-five deaths occur among newborns, and some 60 per cent occur within the first year of life.
In addition, the region has the world's highest fertility, with a regional total fertility rate (TFR) of about 5.1 lifetime births per woman. Contraceptive prevalence rates for modern methods in most of the region remain low. In both Middle and Western Africa, less than 10 per cent of women use any modern method, and in East and Southern Africa, the figures are 27 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.
The region's unmet need for family planning among married women is the highest in the world. More than two thirds of women of reproductive age are currently not using modern contraceptives. About 39 per cent of pregnancies are unwanted. The low use of family planning leads to many births that are timed badly or unwanted and contributes to the world's highest level of maternal mortality.
The current situation of poor maternal health and low use of family planning has major consequences for the continent. For example, when a mother dies or an orphaned child does not get the food or education he or she needs, or a girl experiences a life without opportunities, the consequences extend beyond the existence of these individuals. They diminish society as a whole and lessen the chance for peace, prosperity and stability.
This is why it is important to invest in women’s health. Several studies and experts have argued that investing in women health is key to economic development on the continent. Access to reproductive health, in particular family planning and maternal health services, helps women and girls avoid unwanted or early pregnancies, unsafe abortions, as well as pregnancy‐related disabilities.