World Bank boosts focus on reproductive health

The World Bank said on Tuesday it will focus more on tackling high fertility rates and maternal deaths in poor countries, warning that family planning and other reproductive health services have fallen off the radar of many governments, donors and aid agencies.

In releasing a new 5-year Reproductive Health Action Plan, the World Bank said it would increase lending to reduce high fertility rates and prevent deaths of mothers and their children in 58 developing countries.

It will do this by increasing access to contraceptives, encouraging more frequent prenatal visits for pregnant women, expanding education on the subject and investing more in training new health workers.

Bank health financing tripled to a record $4.1 billion in fiscal year 2010 ending June - a 40 percent increase over the previous year’s record.

However, lending to reduce high fertility or improve access to family planning accounted for only 4 percent of the Bank’s health portfolio over the last decade, dropping by two-thirds between the first and second half of the decade.

“A mother’s unnecessary death in childbirth is not just a human tragedy, it is also an economic and social catastrophe” said Julian Schweitzer, acting vice president of human development at the World Bank.

Some 350,000 women die each year, mainly in developing countries, due to complications associated with pregnancy and child birth.

Many women in poor countries use abortions as a last-resort means of birth control. Some 68,000 women die each year due to unsafe and illegal abortions, while another 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability, the Bank said.

Meanwhile, new World Bank figures show that while development aid for health skyrocketed almost five-fold to $14 billion in 2007 from $2.9 billion in 1995, funding for population and reproductive health services increased by just $1.9 billion from $901 million during the same period.

In the 35 highest-fertility countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, funding for women’s family planning and reproductive programs began at $150 million in 1995 and increased to $432 million in 2007. Meanwhile, overall aid for health in the same countries went from $915 million in 1995 to $4.9 billion in 2007.


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