Why Reproductive Health in Crisis?

What is Reproductive Health?

Reproductive health services include:

  • Comprehensive family planning—providing information and access to a range of contraceptives (the pill, condoms, etc).
  • Maternal health services—caring for women during and after pregnancy, and ensuring mothers have a safe delivery.
  • Prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
  • Prevention and response to gender-based violence (GBV), including psychosocial and legal response services for survivors.

Saving lives now…..and later.

Many displaced people have traveled miles to find refuge from violence and natural disasters. Humanitarian response often prioritizes food, shelter, sanitation and water—basic needs and rights. Even in the face of crisis or war, the right of reproductive health is as critical as ever.

Addressing a Great Need

Women in conflict or crisis suffer the burden of war. Their homes have often been destroyed; their possessions are what they can carry; yet they fight for their family’s survival as well as their own.

When it comes to health services, displaced people often fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, they are often the most vulnerable.

Whether living in camps or on the move, like everyone else, refugees have sex. And like any other person having sex, women are at risk of getting pregnant and contracting a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV. Adolescents are at an even greater risk since social structures during conflict have been lost, and young people have often become the primary caregivers for members of their family.”During the war, there was a lot of gender-based violence. As a result, there were lots of teenage pregnancies, rape cases, and women being battered. We decided to go into reproductive health to help solve some of these problems.”

-Partner, Liberia

Sexual Violence Increase in Crisis

The risks of not receiving adequate reproductive health are often exacerbated in crisis. Sexual violence typically increases during crisis. Women often suffer the most during war. This harsh environment can include:

  • the use of rape as a weapon of war
  • increased coercion of women and girls to provide sex in exchange for basic supplies like food, water or medicine
  • additional risk of attacks on women who travel long distances for necessary supplies.

The lives of women and girls are endangered every day. The statistics are startling. In one conflict setting, almost 90% of women surveyed reported at least one physical violation—more than half of the women interviewed reported at least one sexually violent incident.[1]

Apart from sexual violence, there are other risks. In the midst of war, where roads and hospitals have often been destroyed, services to deliver a baby, provide contraception, or offer lifesaving services are few and far between. Even when the bullets cease, the situation remains deadly.

  • Each year, more than half a million women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth; this number has not declined substantially in more than two decades.
  • Globally, 75% of all maternal deaths are due to five causes, all of which can be easily treated.
  • 99% of maternal deaths occur in the developing world, which is also the location of the majority of humanitarian crises. The lifetime risk of maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa is 1 in 16. In the US, it is 1 in 4800.
  • There are nearly 80 million unintended pregnancies every year. The outcomes of which prevent women from working or pursuing an education.
  • Over 137 million women around the world have unmet contraceptive needs.

RH is Crucial to Creating Strong Communities

Providing reproductive health services prevents deaths and disease in communities. Where quality services are available and accessible, women are more likely to survive childbirth, and more likely to plan their families. Birth spacing creates stronger families. In fact, modern contraceptives help women prevent 215,000 pregnancy-related deaths and 2.7 million infant deaths every year.[2]

Globally, 80% of all maternal deaths are due to five causes, all of which can be treated.[3] Providing safe delivery and pregnancy-related services can save these lives.

Who benefits from these health impacts? Everyone.

Children who have lost their mother are 10 times more likely to die at a young age. Healthy families are the fabric of healthy communities.

Defending a Basic Right

“Women want the same thing the world over, and that is they want to have their rights protected, they want to be respected, and they want to make a contribution.”

-Melanne Verveer, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues

Though refugees and displaced people often have been left with almost nothing, they still have basic human rights.

For nearly two decades, sexual and reproductive health has been a recognized human right. All women and their partners have the right to choose and determine their family size, and that right should not diminish with one’s circumstances, including being a refugee.

Rights shouldn’t disappear, even though everything else has.

Alleviating Poverty

Reproductive health is more than saving a life; it increases quality of life. Poor sexual and reproductive health is not only a symptom, but also a cause of poverty, especially when communities are re-building from crisis or war.

Planning families and saving the lives of women who are often the economic backbone of the family, creates economic empowerment. When a family has saved money, children can go to school, building a foundation for a more prosperous future. Keeping women, children, and families in good health enables communities to thrive.

Increasing reproductive health services also promotes broader economic development by creating public savings on health and other services.[4]

[1] Basia Tomzyk et al, Lofa County Reproductive Health Survey, January-February 2007.

[2] Guttmacher Institute, UNFPA, “Contraception: An Investment in Lives, Health and Development,” 2008 Series, No.5, 2008.

[3] Five main causes include: haemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders, and obstrected labor. For more information, visit UNFPA, Emergency Obstetric Care, http://www.unfpa.org/public/mothers/pid/4385.

[4] Guttmacher Institute, UNFPA, “Contraception: An Investment in Lives, Health and Development,” 2008 Series, No.5, 2008.