The majority of women and girls in developing countries still do not have access to sexual and reproductive health care, the State of the World Population 2017 report shows.
The annual report released on October 17 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that even where services are available, huge disparities exist between the rich and the poor.
The report notes that the limited access to services such as family planning not only results in unintended pregnancies and abortions, which have a bearing on women’s health, but also restricts their ability to engage in productive and economic activities.
If such inequalities were addressed, the report notes that women would be empowered enough to make decisions about their lives and health.
The UNFPA estimates that up to 214 million women in developing countries do not have access to contraceptives, resulting in 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions every year.
Alain Sibenaler, the UNFPA country representative for Uganda, says these global economic inequalities have a direct correlation with how the poorest women and girls access sexual and reproductive health services such as contraceptives.
“If you do not have access to reproductive health and rights, you stay poor. And if you are poor, it is difficult to obtain access to sexual and reproductive health services,” said Mr Sibenaler.
He noted that investing in family planning is critical to reversing this trend and accelerating a demographic transition.
Several countries have proposed to increase access to contraceptives as part of the FP2020 commitments. FP2020 is a global partnership that aims to expand access to family planning information services to an additional 120 million women and girls in 69 of the world’s poorest countries by 2020.
In East Africa, Rwanda has an unmet need for family planning at 23.3 per cent, Kenya is at 20.1 per cent, Uganda at 34 per cent, Tanzania at 27 per cent and Burundi at 30.2 per cent.
Senegal, Rwanda and Cambodia have been the most progressive in reducing inequalities in access to contraception and antenatal care services.
“The more you invest in family planning, the more the returns in terms of a reduction of unwanted and teenage pregnancies and an increase in employment opportunities,” said Mr Sibenaler.
“The longer girls say in school, the more we reduce the incidence of child marriage, high fertility rate and family size. And the smaller the family, the higher the economic growth and the faster the growth of family wealth,” he added.