Katie Porter is a Legislative Policy Analyst at Population Action International.
The goal of achieving reproductive health equity for women around the world gained currency last week with the release of a World Health Organization-sponsored report citing unprotected sex as the second leading cause of disability and death in the developing world. What was refreshing for many of us in this field was the bold way in which the WHO called it like it is: "declining financial support, increased political interference and an overall reluctance to tackle threats to sexual and reproductive health" are threatening the very existence of strong family planning programs. That trend must end.
During a recent trip to Ethiopia, I heard time and time again just how difficult integration of family planning and HIV services is in light of funding cuts to family planning programs in many African countries. While U.S. support for HIV/AIDS is at an unprecedented level, our decades-long support for family planning is dangerously low and the repercussions for women, men, and their families are deadly. How much have we truly accomplished in a country where HIV infection is coming down if maternal and infant mortality rates are still high and on the rise?
As someone who spent five years working in a congressional office, I know how easy it is for Congress to throw its weight behind issues most interesting to the public and most talked about in the news. International family planning isn't one of them. And yet this report illuminates the scope of the problem in a way that should shame the world for allowing a decline in support for family planning. The report states: "Rapid population growth poses a bigger threat to poverty reduction in most poor countries than does HIV/AIDS." The new Congress gives us an important opportunity to educate new members and reeducate the old about the value of international family planning. The facts are on our side, now we have to sell it.
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Without political and financial support, population will continue to grow at an unsustainable rate. Women and children will continue to die needlessly, and history will judge us for failing to support proven health interventions. Only through increased funding and a renewed commitment to family planning and sexual and reproductive health programs can we have the most profound effect on the health and well being of people around the world.