World Contraception Day and the Critical Links Between Maternal Health and Family Planning Access

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By: Sarah Blake, MHTF consultant

Yesterday, September 26 was World Contraception Day, a global event that seeks to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted. To mark the event, partners from around the world gathered in person and online to discuss priorities under the motto “Your Future. Your Choice. Your Contraception.” Among the highlights were a series of new infographics from the Population Council that highlight the multiple benefits, of family planning, including evidence on the essential role that family planning access can play in reducing maternal mortality.  Elsewhere, the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations blog highlighted new family planning technologies. At the The Huffington Post, EngenderHealth CEO Pamela Barnes called attention to the role of health workers, “everyday heroes,” who provide high quality reproductive health services around the world; and Women Deliver President Jill Sheffield pointed out that pregnancy and childbirth-related factors continue to be the leading causes of death for adolescent girls, and called for more efforts to empower young people with access to comprehensive family planning and reproductive health services and information.

In addition, in a blog post in Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, MCHIP’s Anne Pfitzer reflected on new evidence from Pakistan and Rwanda, which highlights the critical role of postpartum family planning in advancing maternal and newborn health.

From her blog post:

As time lapses after the birth of a child, women in Pakistan and in Rwanda continue to have early pregnancies. By a child’s second birthday (or a birth-to-pregnancy interval of less than two years), 60% of Pakistani and 52% of Rwandan women are pregnant again. These short intervals may indeed contribute to the unacceptably high rates of infant mortality in both countries, as analyses have shown that the birth-to-pregnancy intervals associated with the lowest mortality are 24 to 48 months apart.

Those studies notwithstanding, perhaps women still want to become pregnant? We do find that, actually. When asked, 13% of Pakistani women state that they desire another baby within two years of a previous birth. Contrast that with Rwanda, where only 2% of women want a closely spaced pregnancy. Some women do use contraception during that two year period—26% in Pakistan and 44% in Rwanda—yet more than half of women two years postpartum in both countries have an unmet need for family planning (59% in Pakistan and 51% in Rwanda). That’s a lot of women who are not acting on their reproductive aspirations.

For more on World Contraception Day 2013, visit the #WCD2013 on Twitter, the highlights compiled by Pathfinder International, or for more resources on activities, resources and announcements from sponsoring organizations.