Progress – and Gaps – in Women’s Health

The United Nations Population Fund organized a high-level meeting in Istanbul this week, calling attention to the economic benefit of supporting family planning and the rights of women. The meeting focused on the challenges that face Central Asia and Eastern Europe as the countries in the regions try to meet the Millennium Development goals that relate to maternal mortality. The meeting issued a progress report that discussed the challenges facing Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the progress that has been made so far. Here’s the good news:

  • Maternal mortality has fallen by half, from 51 per 100,000 live births to 24
  • Fifteen years ago, more pregnancies resulted in abortions than live births; the ratio has now decreased to 494 abortions to 1000 births
  • Antenatal coverage and skilled birth assistance is widespread

They also signed a statement reaffirming their commitment to improving women’s health. It was pretty much the usual stuff – access to reproductive health care, reducing maternal mortality, investing in women’s health and education.  These are all important and valuable, but not especially surprising.

A few of the provisions did surprise me. The statement recognized the importance of the private sector, but also recommended that “that ongoing health reforms focused on decentralization and privatization should safeguard access for the poor to quality sexual and reproductive health services including maternal care, family planning, and reproductive health commodities. They also “recognize the existing inequities in access and quality of reproductive health services.” This focus on making sure that health sector reform promotes equity struck me as both unexpected and a very good thing.