Maternal health is not only a health issue but also a rights issue.
Photo: Curt Carnemark/World Bank
Sexual and reproductive rights
In order to reduce maternal and child mortality rates around the world, more resources need to be dedicated to health care. However, it is also important to strengthen the mental mindset that women have the right to decide over their own bodies. Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is therefore one of Sida's important profile issues.
Maternal health is not only a health issue but also a rights issue. People need both access to health care, including legal abortions and contraceptives, as well as access to knowledge and counselling about sexuality and sexual rights. Sweden has played an important role in raising these issues in the international arena, including sensitive and controversial issues such as safe abortions, contraception and sexual education.
SRHR is also about emphasising lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Rights of LGBT persons are violated around the world every day and more than 85 countries worldwide still criminalise homosexual acts.
Sida's support to health sector accounts for 10 per cent of the total cooperation (2012), and it is focused on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
Although considerable progress has been made, maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high in poorest countries. Nearly 800 women* die every day in connection to pregnancy- and childbirth complications. At the same time, there has been a palpable improvement in many countries, e.g. in Bangladesh where maternal mortality rate is approaching the goal set out in the Millennium Development Goals. Globally, maternal mortality rate has decreased by nearly a half over the past 20 years, yet much work remains to be done in order to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals.
The main causes of death in many poor countries is lack of professional assistance at childbirth, however unsafe abortion in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa is the cause of death in as many as 30-40 per cent of cases.
Sida particularly focuses on giving more women access to better prenatal care, for instance by investing in education of midwives. Sweden has one of the world’s lowest maternal mortality rates, and midwives in Sweden have since long been advocating for recognition of midwives as the most important human resource in reducing maternal mortality.
Sida is the only donor that supports the Comprehensive Reproductive and Sexual Health Programme including Menstrual Regulation Services in Bangladesh with SEK 42.4 million. The programme aims to increase access to good reproductive health care.
Sexual education to prevent HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies
The right to education includes the right to sexual education, which is also a means to prevent both HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. Most countries in Southeast Asia have a policy on sexual education. In Latin America, the situation varies widely between countries. In Africa, there are several countries that do not conduct any planned sexual education at all. Despite the inclusion of sexual education in educational plans in many countries, the quality varies considerably.
Child mortality rate for children under five has declined with nearly 50 per cent since 1990**.
However, infant mortality rate has not been reduced at the same rate and a quarter of all deaths occur in India.
Among others, Sida also supports UNICEF's health programme in DR Congo, which aims to build up a national health care system and thus reduce mortality rates of mothers and children. DR Congo has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates.
(source: *UNFPA, WHO)