FULFILLING unmet contraception demand by women in developing countries could reduce global maternal mortality by nearly a third, a new study shows.
The study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, published yesterday in The Lancet, uses maternal mortality and survey data from the United Nations and World Health Organisation to estimate the annual number of maternal deaths in 172 countries and the share that could be prevented by contraception use.
Birth control reduces health risks, the researchers said, by delaying first pregnancies, which carry higher risks in very young women; reducing the number of unsafe abortions, which account for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths in developing countries; and controlling dangers associated with pregnancies that are too closely spaced.
The study found the number of maternal deaths in those countries in 2008 would have nearly doubled without contraception. They acknowledged, however, that maternal mortality record-keeping is weak in developing countries, a limitation of the study. They also found that an additional 29 per cent of the deaths could have been prevented if women who wanted birth control had received it.
The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and comes before a major family planning conference in London that aims to refocus attention on the issue. The proportion of international population assistance funds that went to family planning fell to 6 per cent in 2008, down from 55 per cent in 1995, according to Rachel Nugent, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.
But population growth has continued to surge and experts warn that developing countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, where fertility rates remain high and shortages of food and water are worsening, will face deteriorating conditions if family sizes do not shrink.
About $4 billion is expected to be pledged at the London conference to provide family planning services to 120 million women from the world’s poorest countries over the next eight years.
The New York Times