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In advance of International Women's Day on 8 March 2014, WHO is launching new guidance to help countries ensure human rights are respected in providing more girls, women, and couples with the information and services they need to avoid unwanted pregnancies.
An estimated 222 million girls and women who do not want to get pregnant, or who want to delay their next pregnancy, are not using any method of contraception. Access to contraception information and services will allow better planning for families and improved health.
The guidance recommends that everyone who wants contraception should be able to obtain detailed and accurate information, and a variety of services, such as counselling as well as contraceptive products. It also underlines the need for no discrimination, coercion or violence, with special attention given to assuring access to those who are disadvantaged and marginalized.
Other key measures are scientifically accurate sex education programmes for young people, including information on how to use and acquire contraceptives. The guidance states that adolescents should be able to seek contraceptive services without having to obtain permission from parents or guardians. It also recommends that women be able to request services without having to obtain authorization from their husbands. It emphasizes the importance of respecting the privacy of individuals, including confidentiality of medical and other personal information.
"A lack of contraception puts 6 out of 10 women in low-income countries at risk of unintended pregnancy," says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, and Children's Health. "Ensuring availability and accessibility to the information and services they need is crucial, not only to protect their rights, but also their health. These unintended pregnancies can pose a major threat to their own and their children's health and lives."
In low- and middle-income countries, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading cause of death in young women aged 15–19 years. Stillbirths and death in the first week of life are 50% higher among babies born to mothers younger than 20 years than among babies born to mothers 20–29 years old.
Access to contraception allows couples to space pregnancies and enables those who wish to limit the size of their families to do so. Evidence suggests that women who have more than four children are at increased risk of death from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
Many people who cannot currently access contraception services are young, poor, and live in rural areas and urban slums. Efforts are under way to address this need. The 2012 London Summit on Family Planning committed to extend family planning services to at least 120 million more people by the year 2020.
"Global targets are stimulating much needed action to increase access to modern contraception," says Dr Marleen Temmerman, Director of WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research. "But we have to be careful that our efforts to meet those targets do not lead to human rights infringements. It is not just about increasing numbers, it's also about increasing knowledge. It is vital for women—and men—to understand how contraception works, be offered a choice of methods, and be happy with the method they receive."
The International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 highlighted the importance of a rights-based approach to family planning. The past 20 years have seen a large amount of work demanding and defining a rights-based approach to health services—including contraception. Yet there has been comparatively little practical advice how to do so. WHO's new guidance aims to address that gap.
The guidance also suggests ways to improve supply chains and affordability, recommends additional training for health workers, and outlines a series of steps to improve access in crisis settings, in HIV clinics, and during pre-natal and post-natal care.
The new guidance complements existing WHO recommendations for sexual and reproductive health programmes, including guidance on maternal and newborn health, sexuality education, prevention of unsafe abortion, and core competencies for primary health care.
Glenn Thomas WHO Communications Officer Telephone: +41 22 791 3983 Mobile: +41 79 509 0677 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org