Commentary Sexual Health

A Call to Action: Integrate Family Planning and HIV Services to Save Women’s Lives

Dana Hovig

In 2012, three years before the 2015 deadline the world set for itself to reduce preventable maternal deaths and new HIV infections, we must act more boldly than we have up until now. The global health community must work to bring family planning and HIV services together – and quickly – to save women’s lives.

Every year, over 350,000 women die from pregnancy-related complications. If every woman on the planet had equal access to family planning and safe motherhood services, one in four of these women’s lives could be saved. Equally important is the toll HIV takes on women and girls globally. Seventeen million women of reproductive age are living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, HIV is responsible for 46 percent of all deaths among women of child-bearing age, many of which could be prevented with simple effective contraception and condoms to prevent both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV – a practice technically known as ‘dual protection.’

It is 2012, three years before the 2015 deadline the world set for itself to reduce preventable maternal deaths and new HIV infections. If we are to reach this goal, we must act more boldly than we have up until now. Women who are at risk of unplanned pregnancy are also at risk of HIV, and vice-versa so separation of these services no longer makes sense. The global health community must work to bring family planning and HIV services together – and quickly – to save women’s lives.

The challenge to achieving this exists at the very highest levels. So the question is how do we ensure women receive the support they need to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy and HIV infection?

In the past many HIV and family planning services have operated in complete isolation of one another. It is only through integration of sexual and reproductive health and HIV that we can hope to address this challenge.

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Here in the West, where women have access to quality health care, free contraception, advice and condoms often in one place, it can be an issue to which we don’t give much thought. But today, on International Women’s Day, we should remember the 215 million women around the world, most at risk of both unplanned pregnancy and HIV, who want contraception and HIV prevention services, but have no access to integrated services.

Marie Stopes International and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance are working together to make it possible for women to access HIV prevention, care and treatment services during any visit to their family planning provider – and for those accessing HIV services to access family planning. We know that this increases effectiveness, efficiency of health service delivery, and provides value for money through less duplication of effort. We believe our approach will save women’s lives.

We call on the public to urge leaders to support integration of services in the developing world. We encourage organisations working with us to support the integration of family planning and HIV services.

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