July 10, 2008 / 12:43 PM / 9 years ago

World Bank urges more focus on contraception

<p>Samples of emergency contraceptive pills are displayed in this photo taken at a Buenos Aires public hospital January 2, 2007. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More emphasis is needed on family planning issues in poor countries, the World Bank said on Thursday, citing new data that it said showed 51 million unplanned pregnancies occur because women lack access to contraceptives.

In a report released ahead of World Population Day on Friday, the World Bank said another 25 million pregnancies in developing countries occur because contraceptives are incorrectly used or because birth control measures fail.

“It’s simply tragic that so many leaders in poor countries and their aid donors have allowed reproductive health programs to fall off the radar,” said Joy Phumaphi, World Bank vice president for Human Development and a former health minister in Botswana.

She said the issue was especially important now with countries worried about climate change and how they will be able to feed people if energy and fuel costs keep rising.

“Giving women access to modern contraception and family planning also helps to boost economic growth while reducing high birth rates so strongly linked with endemic poverty, poor education, and high numbers of maternal and infant deaths,” Phumaphi added.

The World Bank said birth rates have fallen fastest in Asia but at a slower pace in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is growing at a rate of 2.5 percent a year, which would double the number of people in Africa within 28 years.

By comparison, populations are growing by 1.2 percent a year in Latin America and Asia, the Bank said.

The report, “Fertility Regulation Behaviors and Their Costs: Contraception and Unintended Pregnancies in Africa and Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” said 35 countries in Africa and in Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Djibouti and Yemen have the world’s highest birth rates with more than five children per mother.

It said some 68,000 women die every year due to unsafe abortions, while another 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability as a result.

The World Bank said poor women are less likely to use contraceptives than women who are better off. Wealthier women are more than three times likelier than poorer ones to have a doctor or mid-wife to help with the births of their babies.

Sadia Chowdhury, a senior reproductive and child health specialist at the World Bank, said it was crucial that information about contraceptives be made more widely available not only to women but also to men, local leaders and youths.

“Promoting girls’ and women’s education is just as important in reducing birth rates in the long run as promoting contraception and family planning,” she said. “Education becomes a form of social contraception for women,” she added.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Vicki Allen

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