Delivering Solutions to Improve Maternal Health and Increase Access to Family Planning (Policy Brief)January 18, 2013 By Sandeep Bathala
The Wilson Center Policy Briefs are a series of short analyses of critical global issues facing the next administration that will run until inauguration day.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 800 women die daily from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries, with higher rates for women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
Several factors greatly limit women’s access to the quality health services they need to protect them from maternal illness and death. The good news is that we already know how to reduce maternal mortality. Skilled care, before, during, and after child-birth, can save the lives of women and babies.
The concrete actions recommended here have been proven to make a difference, using mostly low-cost systems or technologies that build on the current knowledge base.
Invest in Female Empowerment, Education, and Health
Investing in female empowerment and education is one of the simplest and most important ways to improve reproductive health in any setting. Women’s agency has a powerful effect on improving all aspects of women’s lives, including their health. At the highest levels, maternal health programs should coordinate with efforts to reduce gender inequality by educating women, giving them greater decision-making power, increasing their access to capital assets and employment, and expanding their access to health services. Empowering girls and women through education leads them to take greater control over their own sexual health by making it easier for them to start their families later and allowing them to choose the number of children they bear.
Investing in maternal health is good economics. The consequences of maternal death and illness can ripple through families for years. Studies in many low-income countries have found that poor families who have maternal health–related expenses they cannot afford may use savings or incur debt to make payments, which reduces their ability to purchase food or invest in education.
Given women’s key role in the labor force in many countries, especially in agricultural production, maternal deaths and disabilities impose heavy costs on households and on the economy. Policymakers can decrease women’s and girls’ risk of maternal death by expanding entrepreneurial opportunities, including microcredit programs, vocational training, and land titling.
Investing in young women is especially important, as adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than do older women. Interventions that target adolescent girls, such as conditional cash transfers that put money directly in their hands, increase school retention rates and lower the risk of sexual activity and HIV/AIDS.
When women have access to education and healthcare, a generational multiplier effect applies. These women’s children get better educations and are more productive adults; hence, investing in the women contributes to long-term economic growth.
Sources: World Health Organization.