Millennium Development Goal 5 aims to improve maternal health through two targets: (1) Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio, and (2) Achieve, by 2015 universal access to reproductive health. While maternal deaths worldwide have dropped 34% since 1990, maternal mortality remains remarkably high (more than 358,000 women die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth) and large disparities remain in providing women with family planning tools, antenatal care, and skilled assistance during delivery (UN 2010).
As the world strives to meet MDG 5 by 2015, leadership and innovation is needed to provide critical sexual and reproductive health services to women and adolescent girls. In her most recent work, “International Reproductive Health Still Worth the Investment,” published this month in Contraception, Suzanne Petroni (VP for Global Health at PHI) calls for United States and the international community to address the challenges of reproductive health through collaboration and innovation. The editorial, co-authored with President and CEO of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP), Wayne Shields, brings to light the fact that in recent years, U.S. funding and policies towards reproductive health issues have become incredibly “divisive” and “politicized,” resulting in inadequate programming and insufficient funding.
Using the outcome document from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo as a framework, Petroni notes the importance of recognizing that access to reproductive health is critical to the realization of a sustainable world. In the ICPD Programme of Action, reproductive health was defined broadly to include not just family planning, but maternal and neonatal health, sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment, and gender-based violence prevention and response. A decade and a half later, the ICPD’s call for an innovative, more holistic view of health is still relevant and necessary.
Petroni does give hope, however. She notes that, despite the many challenges facing the achievement of a sustainable and more equitable world, “comprehensive solutions are effective.” The Obama Administration’s Global Health Initiative (GHI),for example, serves as a coordinating effort for the U.S. government global health efforts and is, among other things, focused on promoting the well-being and quality of life of women around the world through strengthening family planning and reproductive health across assisted countries. Additionally, a number of public health organizations and other NGOs continue to create reproductive health strategies and programs that build on proven principles, like those from Cairo, and work in an interdisciplinary way to effectively meet the reproductive health needs of women around the world. One such organization is PHI.
Launched in 2004, the Youth Leadership in Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (GOJoven) trains young, leaders in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Quintana Roo, Mexico to improve reproductive health outcomes and strengthen capacity of local organizations. GoJoven fellows, like Daisy Magaña of Belize, receive hundreds of hours of valuable training in sexual and reproductive health and on environmental issues in their communities (See Jeff Meer’s April 22 Blog entry). Implemented by the Public Health Institute (PHI), and funded by the Summit Foundation, GoJoven serves as a perfect example of how PHI and others see the value in reproductive health education and infrastructure building in the developing world.
Another key on-the-ground example of PHI’s successful campaign to build capacity and improve reproductive health around the world is the Adolescent Girl’s Advocacy and Leadership Initiative (AGALI). Working in countries throughout Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, AGALI strengthens leaders’ capacity to improve the health, education, and livelihoods of adolescent girls and young women. With support from the UN Foundation, PHI lends its expertise in the fields of policy advocacy, leadership, sexual and reproductive health, and youth development to address the urgent challenges facing adolescent girls.
Finally, PHI’s Coalition Advancing Multipurpose Innovations (CAMI) brings together scientists, product developers, advocates and policymakers to advance the development and use of technologies that would allow women to simultaneously prevent unintended pregnancy and a range of sexually transmitted infections.
Currently, the world is NOT on track to meet MDG 5 by 2015. While the global maternal mortality ratio has declined at a rate of 2.3% per year, this is far from the annual decline of 5.5% required to achieve the MDG (WHO 2011).
Through CAMI, AGALI, GOJoven, and a number of other projects around the world, PHI uses innovative and interdisciplinary strategies to build the capacity of leaders while providing sustainable and effective reproductive health to women, men and young people around the world. Such programs help to build the next generation of leaders striving to achieve universal access to reproductive health in a world where support for this issue is unfortunately still a contentious topic in public policy debates. Petroni and Shields note that the political stalemate in the international reproductive health conversation will continue unless the U.S. and other nations reaffirm their commitment to women’s health and empowerment and put into practice the lessons learned from the ICPD.