New report ranks 130 nations according to sexual and reproductive risks to women

18th October 2007

The risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth still shows the largest gap between the rich and poor of all development statistics, despite 20 years of campaigning to improve the reproductive health of women throughout the world, according to Population Action International´s new report 'A Measure of Survival: Calculating Women´s Sexual and Reproductive Risk'. The lifetime risk of maternal death is over 250 times higher in poor countries than in wealthy countries. Tragically, this grave risk is largely preventable.

Women are at highest sexual and reproductive health risk in Niger, Chad, Mali, Yemen and Ethiopia, while the Netherlands, Switzerland, Singapore, Germany and Belgium are the safest countries for women´s health.  In general, women´s sexual and reproductive health are riskiest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and the need for reproductive health services is greatest among the poorest women and men residing in the world´s lowest-income countries.
A Measure of Survival: Calculating Women´s Sexual and Reproductive Risk will be released by Population Action International at the Women Deliver conference in London on October 18th. This report is unique because it recognizes that there are many indicators of a woman´s sexual and reproductive health. A Measure of Survival puts all the pieces of the puzzle together to form a complete picture. The report ranks 130 developing and developed countries according to sexual and reproductive risk, and provides steps to improve the reproductive health of women in all countries.

"What´s your number?" asks Amy Coen, President/CEO of Population Action International. "It´s a measure of your country´s dedication to women´s well-being. But make no mistake, behind each number is a woman, a family, a community and generations."

A Measure of Survival encourages action and gives strategies for countries to lower women´s sexual and reproductive risk. Examples of recommendations include making childbirth safer by increasing access to reproductive health care; ending harmful practices like very early marriage, intimate partner violence and female genital mutilation; and financing reproductive health supplies.

Findings from the report:

Voluntary family planning can reduce the number of maternal deaths by reducing unwanted pregnancies and preventing women from seeking often-unsafe abortion. More than 120 million women say they would prefer to avoid a pregnancy, but are not using any form of contraception.
Investing in women improves the health and well-being of families, communities and even nations. It can contribute toward reducing poverty and stimulating economic development.

Some countries- including low-income countries-have successfully reduced maternal mortality. Romania, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Honduras have used a variety of strategies including increasing access to hospitals and midwives, improving quality of care and controlling infectious diseases.

The United Kingdom lags behind a few surprising leaders like Croatia and Cuba, barely making the top 20 in the report´s "lowest risk" category, due to high rates of teenage pregnancy.  The U.K. has the highest adolescent fertility rate of all Western European countries, which leads to higher death and injury rates for young mothers and their infants.

Unprotected sex is the primary mode of HIV transmission for women. Although marriage is often seen as a protective factor, it is not.  Even in countries that have seen declines in HIV prevalence, the majority of new infections are now among monogamous married women.

Pregnancy and childbirth are deadly to more than half a million women worldwide every year; pregnancy is the leading cause of death for young women aged 15 to 19 worldwide.  This statistic has remained virtually unchanged for the past decade. Death and injury rates are also higher among infants born to young mothers.

In the next ten years, 100 million young women will marry before they turn 18.  In most developing countries (excluding China), one in seven girls marries before she is 15. Early marriage can mark the end of investments in the education and development of girls, contributing to persistent poverty among women, and young married girls are more likely to experience domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Skilled attendance at childbirth can make the difference between life and death.  In the early 1990s, it was estimated that one in four women in developing countries gave birth without skilled care.  Today-fifteen years later-this figure is still the same.

Unsafe abortion is preventable when women´s family planning needs are met and when abortion is legal and accessible.  Yet, it is estimated that 68,000 women die from unsafe abortion every year, and millions more suffer complications, primarily in developing countries.

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October 18 2007, PAI

Categories: Yemen, Ethiopia

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