WOMENAID INTERNATIONAL

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
FACTS & FIGURES

BRIEFING PAPER BPH/22

Five hundred and eighty-five thousand women - one every minute - die each year from causes related to pregnancy. Nearly all are in developing countries. Many times that number suffer temporary or permanent disability as a result of childbirth. Most of these lives and such suffering could be spared by relatively low-cost improvements in reproductive health care, such as better monitoring and care during pregnancy, and through emergency referral and transport systems as well as health care after delivery.

About 200,000 maternal deaths each year result from the lack or failure of contraceptive services.

One hundred and twenty million to 150 million women who want to limit or space their pregnancies are still without the means to do so effectively. Altogether, 350 million couples lack information about contraception as well as access to a range of contraceptive services.

At least 75 million pregnancies each year (out of a total of about 175 million) are unwanted, they result in 45 million abortions and over 30 million live births.

Seventy thousand women die each year as a result of unsafe abortions, an unknown number suffer infection and other health consequences. Many of the estimated 20 million unsafe abortions could be avoided if unsafe and effective means of contraception were freely available.

One million people die each year as a result of reproductive tract infections, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) other than HIV/Aids. For women aged between 15 and 44 in developing countries, the second highest burden of disease (after maternal mortality and morbidity) comes from STDs. These account for nearly 115 per cent of all health lost in this age range. There are an estimated 333 million new cases of STDs per year.

Six out of every ten women in many countries have a sexually transmitted disease. About half of all infected women may experience no symptoms, more do not understand their symptoms, but all face a high risk of infertility, cervical cancer and other health problems.

One hundred and twenty million women have undergone female genital mutilation, another two million are at risk each year. It is in various forms an invasive, painful, sometimes life-threatening and completely unnecessary type of surgery, usually carried out under conditions that easily transfer infection.

Rape and other forms of sexual violence are increasing, although many rapes go unreported because of the stigma and trauma associated with them, as well as the lack of sympathetic treatment from legal systems. Estimates of the proportion of rapes reported vary: In South Africa, for example, from less than 3 per cent to about 6 per cent.

At least 60 million girls who would otherwise be expected to be alive are 'missing' from various populations, as a result of sex-selective abortions or relative neglect.

Two million girls between the ages of 5 and 15 are introduced into the commercial sex market each year.

Studies of domestic violence suggests that it is wide spread in most societies, it is a frequent cause of suicide among women, and of murder.

Nearly 600 million women are illiterate, compared with about 320 million men.

Twenty-five million people are refugees, a disproportionate number of them women, reproductive health care is now becoming a standard part of the health package offered to refugees. Contraceptive protection for women in refugee camps could be provided for between $1 and $5 per woman. Safe delivery of a child in a refugee camp can be guaranteed for between $5 and $10.

Women's lives are usually described in terms of motherhood, while men's lives are usually characterised as heads of household or wage-earners. Women's contribution to the household economy, remunerated or not, are substantial and undervalued. On the domestic front, while women have taken on an increasing role in providing income to their families, men have not taken up their share of the responsibility in family life. Responsibility for children, in particular, is still seen as belonging to the mother.

Teenage mothers face a higher-than-average risk of maternal death, and their children have higher levels of morbidity and mortality. Early marriage and childbearing also impede young women's educational and employment opportunities. Both pre-marital sexual activity among teenagers and the average age at which young women marry have increased in many societies in recent decades, particularly in industrialised countries. In many places, however, early marriage and childbearing are still the norm. High levels of adolescent pregnancy, childbearing and unsafe abortion reflect a lack of education and economic opportunities.

Eighty per cent of women raped already know their attackers. The majority of sexual attack victims are young. Women subjected to rape and assault face numerous health risks, including severe injuries, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

The right to found a family runs parallel to the right not to be coerced into marriage.

Unusual patterns of child deaths and distorted child death ratios at birth in some countries reflect the low status accorded to girls. An explicit preference for sons is readily expressed in these countries. When fertility levels are high, couples may have more children than they want, as they continue to try to produce a desired `number of sons.

Facts and Figures. Source: 1997 World Population Report 
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

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