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UN tackles worsening sexual & reproductive health

UN agencies team up to tackle worsening sexual and reproductive health worldwide

With more than half a million women dying each year during pregnancy and childbirth from largely preventable causes, and 340 million new cases of sexually transmitted bacterial infections annually, United Nations agencies are coordinating action to reverse the global trend of deteriorating levels of sexual and reproductive health.

“There is a really worrying rise in the number and severity of sexually transmitted infections (STI),” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Acting Director-General Anders Nordström said.

“But the consequences of poor sexual and reproductive health go well beyond STIs. They lead directly to completely preventable illness and death. It is unacceptable today for a woman to die in childbirth, or for a person to become HIV positive for lack of information and resources.”

Together with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), WHO has identified a number of priority areas for joint action, including a coordinated action plan for a global STI prevention and control Strategy, support to increase skilled health attendants in target countries, and plans to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn and adolescent health.

The two agencies also call for the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health in national economic planning and training of country teams for planning and working together. They will coordinate work in addressing female genital mutilation/cutting; obstetric fistula, a devastating childbirth injury; violence against women; and a pilot programme in two countries to introduce the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.

“The key is to make practical plans in order to implement these strategies,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said. “We are faced with an urgent need to increase investment in sexual and reproductive health to ensure access to quality reproductive health services, including youth-friendly services, and to link HIV/AIDS and STI prevention with reproductive health services and vice versa.”

Many of the estimated 340 million new annual cases bacterial STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea are untreated because of lack of access to services. In addition, millions of cases of viral infection, including HIV, occur every year. HPV infection is closely associated with cervical cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 490,000 women and causes 240,000 deaths every year.

Around 8 million women who become pregnant each year suffer life-threatening complications as a result of sexually transmitted infections and poor sexual health. Annually, an estimated 529,000 women, almost all in developing countries, die during pregnancy and childbirth from largely preventable causes.

Ms. Obaid noted that in developing countries and those in transition, an estimated 200 million women lack access to family planning, while in some cultures, 3 million girls and young women are subjected each year to genital mutilation/cutting which, in recent WHO studies, has been shown to significantly increase the risk of death and serious injury for newborn babies and their mothers.

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