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Within the framework of WHO's definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, reproductive health, or sexual health/hygiene, addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life.[1] Reproductive health, therefore, implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this are the right of men and women to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice, and the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

According to the WHO, "Reproductive and sexual ill-health accounts for 20% of the global burden of ill-health for women, and 14% for men."[2]

Contents

Childbearing and health

Waiting until mother is at least 18 years old before trying to have children improves maternal and child health.[3]

If an additional child is desired, it is considered healthier for mother, as well as for the succeeding child, to wait at least 2 years after previous birth before attempting to conceive (but not more than 5 years).[3] After a miscarriage or abortion, it is healthier to wait at least 6 months.[3]

International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), 1994

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was held in Cairo, Egypt, from 5 to 13 September 1994. Delegations from 179 States took part in negotiations to finalize a Programme of Action on population and development for the next 20 years. Some 20,000 delegates from various governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and the media gathered for a discussion of a variety of population issues, including immigration, infant mortality, birth control, family planning, and the education of women.

In the ICPD Program of Action, 'Reproductive health' is defined as:

“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and...not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of men and women to be informed [about] and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.”[4]

This appears to be the only definition of the term in any international document. However, it should be noted that the ICPD Program of Action, even though it received the support of a large majority of UN Member States, does not enjoy the status of an international legal instrument; it is therefore not legally binding

The Program of Action endorses a new strategy which emphasizes the numerous linkages between population and development and focuses on meeting the needs of individual women and men rather than on achieving demographic targets.[5] The ICPD achieved consensus on four qualitative and quantitative goals for the international community, the final two of which have particular relevance for reproductive health:

  • Reduction of maternal mortality: A reduction of maternal mortality rates and a narrowing of disparities in maternal mortality within countries and between geographical regions, socio-economic and ethnic groups.
  • Access to reproductive and sexual health services including family planning: Family planning counseling, pre-natal care, safe delivery and post-natal care, prevention and appropriate treatment of infertility, prevention of abortion and the management of the consequences of abortion, treatment of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and other reproductive health conditions; and education, counseling, as appropriate, on human sexuality, reproductive health and responsible parenthood. Services regarding HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, infertility, delivery, and abortion should be made available. Active discouragement of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Key to this new approach is empowering women and providing them with more choices through expanded access to education and health services and promoting skill development and employment. The Programme advocates making family planning universally available by 2015, or sooner, as part of a broadened approach to reproductive health and rights, provides estimates of the levels of national resources and international assistance that will be required, and calls on Governments to make these resources available.

Millennium Development Goals

Achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is one of the two targets of Goal 5 - Improving Maternal Health - of the eight Millennium Development Goals.[6] To monitor global progress towards the achievement of this target, the United Nations has agreed on the following indicators:

  • 5.3: contraceptive prevalence rate
  • 5.4: adolescent birth rate
  • 5.5: antenatal care coverage
  • 5.6: unmet need for family planning

According to the MDG Progress Report, regional statistics on all four indicators have either improved or remained stable between the years 2000 and 2005.[7] However, progress has been slow in most developing countries, particularly in Sub-saharan Africa, which remains the region with the poorest indicators for reproductive health.[8] According to the WHO in 2005 an estimated 55% of women do not have sufficient antenatal care and 24% have no access to family planning services.[8]

Reproductive Health and abortion

The World Health Organization considers unsafe abortion a reproductive health issue. [9] [10] WHO’s Global Strategy on Reproductive Health, adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2004, noted: “As a preventable cause of maternal mortality and morbidity, unsafe abortion must be dealt with as part of the MDG on improving maternal health and other international development goals and targets." [11] The WHO's Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP), who's research concerns people's sexual and reproductive health and lives [12], has an overall strategy to combat unsafe abortion that comprises four inter-related activities [13]:

  • to collate, synthesize and generate scientifically sound evidence on unsafe abortion prevalence and practices;
  • to develop improved technologies and implement interventions to make abortion safer;
  • to translate evidence into norms, tools and guidelines;
  • and to assist in the development of programmes and policies that reduce unsafe abortion and improve access to safe abortion and highquality postabortion care

During and after the ICPD, some interested parties attempted to interpret the term ‘reproductive health’ in the sense that it implies abortion as a means of family planning or, indeed, a right to abortion. These interpretations, however, do not reflect the consensus reached at the Conference. For the European Union, where legislation on abortion is certainly less restrictive than elsewhere, the Council Presidency has clearly stated that the Council’s commitment to promote ‘reproductive health’ did not include the promotion of abortion.[14] Likewise, the European Commission, in response to a question from a Member of the European Parliament, clarified:

“The term ‘reproductive health’ was defined by the United Nations (UN) in 1994 at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. All Member States of the Union endorsed the Programme of Action adopted at Cairo. The Union has never adopted an alternative definition of ‘reproductive health’ to that given in the Programme of Action, which makes no reference to abortion.”[15]

With regard to the US, it should be noted that, only a few days prior to the Cairo Conference, the head of the US delegation, Vice President Al Gore, had stated for the record:

“Let us get a false issue off the table: the US does not seek to establish a new international right to abortion, and we do not believe that abortion should be encouraged as a method of family planning.”[16]

Some years later, the position of the US Administration in this debate was reconfirmed by US Ambassador to the UN, Ellen Sauerbrey, when she stated at a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women that: “nongovernmental organizations are attempting to assert that Beijing in some way creates or contributes to the creation of an internationally recognized fundamental right to abortion”[17]. She added: “There is no fundamental right to abortion. And yet it keeps coming up largely driven by NGOs trying to hijack the term and trying to make it into a definition”.[18]

See also

References

  1. ^ "WHO: Reproductive health". http://www.who.int/topics/reproductive_health/en/. Retrieved 2008-08-19.  
  2. ^ "Reproductive Health Strategy - World Health Organization". http://www.who.int/reproductive-health/strategy.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-24.  
  3. ^ a b c "Healthy Timing and Spacing of Pregnancy: HTSP Messages". USAID. http://www.esdproj.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Themes_Spacing_KeyMessages. Retrieved 2008-05-13.  
  4. ^ ICPD Programme of Action, paragraph 7.2.
  5. ^ ICPD. "ICPD Program of Action". http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/populatin/icpd.htm#intro. Retrieved 2009-02-04.  
  6. ^ UN. "Tracking the Millennium Developement Goals". http://www.mdgmonitor.org/goal5.cfm. Retrieved 2008-08-26.  
  7. ^ UN. "2008 MDG Progress Report". p. 28–29. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/The%20Millennium%20Development%20Goals%20Report%202008.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-04.  
  8. ^ a b WHO. "What progress has been made on MDG 5?". http://www.who.int/making_pregnancy_safer/topics/mdg/en/index.html. Retrieved 2009-02-04.  
  9. ^ http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/unsafe_abortion/en/index.html
  10. ^ http://www.wpro.who.int/sites/rph/data/abortion.htm
  11. ^ http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/unsafe_abortion/hrpwork/en/index.html
  12. ^ http://www.who.int/hrp/en/
  13. ^ http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/unsafe_abortion/hrpwork/en/index.html
  14. ^ European Parliament, 4 December 2003: Oral Question (H-0794/03) for Question Time at the part-session in December 2003 pursuant to Rule 43 of the Rules of Procedure by Dana Scallon to the Council. In the written record of that session, one reads: Posselt (PPE-DE): “Does the term ‘reproductive health’ include the promotion of abortion, yes or no?” - Antonione, Council: “No.”
  15. ^ European Parliament, 24 October 2002: Question no 86 by Dana Scallon (H-0670/02)
  16. ^ Jyoti Shankar Singh, Creating a New Consensus on Population (London: Earthscan, 1998), 60
  17. ^ Lederer, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1 March 2005
  18. ^ Leopold, Reuters, 28 February 2005

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