The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) today reversed a Bush Administration policy to block African governments from providing U.S.-funded contraceptive commodities to Marie Stopes International (MSI), one of the world’s leading family planning organisations. Restoring U.S. support will allow women to exercise their basic human rights while helping them avoid unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions and reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
The ban imposed by Bush as part of a full-on attack on women’s access to contraception worldwide disrupted MSI operations in six of the affected countries – Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe – including some where MSI delivers nearly a third of all family planning services nationally.
According to MSI chief executive Dana Hovig:
“Today’s policy reversal is the latest example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to put people before politics [and] a sign of [it's] determination to return science to the heart of US public health policy.”
Hovig noted that lack of access to modern contraception contributes to the deaths each year of more than half a million women – or 1,500 per day – from pregnancy-related causes.
Nearly one in four women in sub-Saharan Africa express a need for family planning services but do not have access. Hovig states:
“There has been clear evidence over many years that voluntary access to contraception is one of the best ways to reduce the number of maternal deaths in Africa, including those from unsafe abortions. Research has shown that for every 100 IUDs made available to our programmes as a result of this decision, we will avert nearly 315 unwanted pregnancies, 45 unsafe abortions and two maternal deaths.”
The Bush Administration justified its September 2008 policy by falsely accusing MSI of being complicit in “coercive abortion and involuntary sterilizations” through its role as implementing partner to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in China.
Globally, MSI manages sexual and reproductive health programmes in 43
countries. In 2008 alone, MSI programmes protected the equivalent of 13
million couples from unwanted pregnancy, a 40% increase over 2006 and
the single largest two-year growth in the organisation’s 32 year
history. A majority of MSI’s family planning efforts are in rural,
underserved areas where women are particularly vulnerable and lives are
most at risk from unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion.