Sexual and reproductive health, which includes access to family planning and HIV prevention and treatment, is increasingly being linked to progress across all areas of development. As the United Nations Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development comes closer to finalizing the post-2015 global development goals, a growing crescendo of voices is commenting on where we stand with regard to meeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of the world’s girls, women and couples and is offering ideas on how to move ahead. We are also seeing important shifts in policy.
There are many examples that illustrate the lively dialogue that is now happening on sexual and reproductive health.
An article in the journal Contraception acknowledges that although significant, measurable progress on sexual and reproductive health has been made in the two decades since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), momentum on key areas of family planning has slowed in recent years.
New commentaries in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization and The Lancet summarize the evidence for why universal access to family planning should be a key component of the post-2015 development agenda. Additional commentaries in The Lancet and Global Health: Science and Practice Journal offer actionable recommendations for meeting global demand for family planning. Finally, Womenatthecenter.org, an exciting new website, is sharing “inspiring, interconnected stories of women’s reproductive health and rights, empowerment and environmental sustainability.”
After the inexplicable exclusion of sexual and reproductive health from earlier OWG post-2015 framework drafts, recent optimism about the future of sexual and reproductive health, as detected through the above commentaries, was reinforced in July when “universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning” reappeared in the OWG’s latest list of goals and targets. A highly publicized analysis of the value for money of each proposed target proved even more compelling. A group of world-renowned economists ranked universal access to sexual and reproductive health as one of only 27 phenomenal investments from the list of more than 150 targets. Sexual and reproductive health also appeared on a list of the top five development areas for return-on-investment.
Given these evidence-based analyses and the growing policy support, what can we anticipate in the future?
We are hopeful that the international community will translate this momentum into investments and improvements in three areas. First, we need to address demand for sexual and reproductive health through widespread community mobilization in support of accurate information about contraceptive methods and increased acceptance of family planning programs. Second, it is important to improve supply by providing greater access to more effective, longer-acting contraceptives, such as implants and intrauterine devices, and through higher-quality provision of rights-based services. Finally, more political buy-in is critical. This can be achieved by educating political leaders on how voluntary family planning can significantly contribute to key social, environmental and economic goals and create important demographic dividends and development gains.
To fulfill the promises of the Millennium Development Goals and the forthcoming post-2015 development agenda, we owe it to the next generation to effectively leverage the growing attention toward and rising priority of sexual and reproductive health.