Focusing on Women’s Health as the UN Looks Ahead to a New Development Framework


Dignitaries from around the world have been meeting this week in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the development framework that will follow the Millennium Development Goals after 2015 to measure progress in combating poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries.

To complete this agenda, we must reduce pregnancy-related deaths and injuries and improve women’s health in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal deaths and injuries, reproductive cancers, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) account for nearly 20 percent of the global burden of ill-health for women and about 14 percent for men. In addition, poor sexual and reproductive health constitutes the leading cause of death and disability among women of childbearing age.

This is unacceptable, and the United States has a major role to play in addressing the crisis. To their great credit, Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton have been outspoken champions of this cause. Under their guidance, the Obama administration has made up a lot of ground in boosting women’s health globally—both on policy and funding—that was lost during the previous administration. But our current foreign aid falls short of supporting a more comprehensive program for sexual and reproductive health.

To that end, and to ensure the United States is a leader in advocating for women’s health and rights, I am proud to introduce the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2013 (HR 3206) Friday.

This comprehensive legislation outlines a progressive model for delivering sexual and reproductive health services under U.S. foreign assistance programs by bolstering the current family planning program. Recognizing that half the world’s population is below the age of 25, it prioritizes the needs of young adults and adolescents, for instance by promoting access to evidence-based comprehensive sex education. HR 3206 also addresses U.S. policies on humanitarian assistance through provision of essential reproductive health services during natural disasters and conflicts, reduction of unsafe abortion, prevention of STIs, integration of voluntary family planning and HIV services, and training of health-care professionals, among other important initiatives.

The United States is the world’s largest donor in international family planning assistance, a proud achievement we should try to maintain. HR 3206 would establish our leadership on the policy and programmatic side too. It provides a road map that would help ensure our contributions have the maximum effect in improving global health.

This improved access would have substantial impact. Some 222 million women in developing countries who want to prevent pregnancy are not using a modern method of contraception. If the United States, other donors, and developing countries helped meet these women’s need for high-quality contraceptive counseling and care, an estimated 54 million unintended pregnancies would be prevented annually. These pregnancies would otherwise result in 21 million unplanned births and 26 million abortions—16 million of them unsafe procedures. Meeting the global need for modern contraceptives would also prevent 79,000 maternal deaths and 1.1 million infant deaths.

The Global Sexual and Reproductive Act offers the United States the chance to be a leader as the world confronts the many development challenges we face. Doing so will make ours a better, healthier, and more stable world. HR 3206 embodies a truly comprehensive and human rights-based approach that promotes the health of children, young people, women, and men through our foreign assistance programs, and that is a win-win for all.

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