NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Wednesday examined how Islam influences health and family planning decisions in Pakistan, one of Asia’s fastest-growing populations. In Pakistan, mullahs generally regard contraception as sin, a high rate of illiteracy among women undermines family planning and a lack of access to adequate health care contributes to a high maternal mortality rate, according to the piece, which profiles a mufti, a physician and two families making very different decisions about the size of their families (McCarthy, 8/10).
Family Planning & Reproductive Health
“In recent years, nearly every demographic study has painted a dire picture of the world’s changing demographics. Yet when the U.N. issued its latest report this past May, it seemed almost sunny,” Jonathan Last, senior writer at the Weekly Standard, writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. He says that “[t]he catch is that it may not be true” because “the U.N. has had to make one very big assumption: Starting tomorrow, every country in the world with fertility below the replacement rate of 2.10 will increase its fertility. And this rise will continue unabated, year after year, until every First World country has a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) near replacement.”
UNICEF on Tuesday “appeal[ed] to the air transport sector to provide free and discounted cargo space to bring emergency food supplies into the region,” the U.N. News Centre reports (8/2). UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, warned in its latest situation report that “[c]hild mortality rates among Somali refugees in Kenya are on the rise and there are ‘alarmingly high rates’ of malnutrition,” according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur/M&C (8/3).
GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog features an interview with Ellen Starbird, deputy director of the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID, and Judy Manning, health development officer in USAID’s Research, Technology and Utilization Division, who discuss “family planning and reproductive health issues, including new innovations and promising technologies still in the research stage.” Starbird says that funding for family planning programs is critical for “making possible for women in the developing world the kinds of choices that women all over the developed world have” (Donnelly, 8/1).
U.N. agencies “are shying away from the politically volatile topic [of abortion], despite mounting evidence that restricted abortion access contributes to maternal deaths and constitutes a violation of a woman’s human rights,” Women’s eNews reports.
The Global Democracy Promotion Act (.pdf), recently introduced in the House by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), “would bar the use of U.S. foreign aid to restrict people’s liberty â€¦ [and] says that organizations accepting U.S. assistance cannot be forced to quash perfectly legal activities in return,” Planned Parenthood Federation of America Vice President Latanya Mapp Frett writes in a New York Daily News opinion piece. She says the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s recent vote to reinstate and expand the so-called “global gag rule” would “foste[r] unintended pregnancy, increasing the need for abortion and endangering women’s health.”
The current issue of Science magazine features a special section that explores issues surrounding population growth, “many of which continue to split demographers,” according to the section’s introduction. “Debate continues over â€¦ whether rapid population growth is best dealt with by expanding family planning programs or implementing policies that will improve livelihoods and increase the education of girls and young women â€“ or both. Still, many experts remain optimistic that with the right mix of policies, countries can harness the opportunities for economic growth and development offered by a young and educated workforce, congregating in dense, networked urban environments,” Science reports (Chin/Marathe/Roberts, 7/29).
In a guest post on the GlobalPost’s “Global Pulse” blog, Janet Fleischman, a senior associate at the CSIS Global Health Policy Center, describes the Malawian government’s “plans to launch a ‘test and treat’ program in which all HIV-infected pregnant women will immediately be put on antiretroviral treatment (ART) drugs for life.” But she adds that “[t]he growing political and economic crisis in Malawi, highlighted by the government’s use of force against peaceful demonstrators last week, could also imperil the groundbreaking expansion of Malawi’s national HIV/AIDS program.”
“When women are healthy and empowered, they can spark a ripple effect in their families, communities and nations that can lead to lower rates of poverty and stronger economic growth and productivity,” Tamara Kreinin, executive director of women and population at the United Nations Foundation, writes in a “RH Reality Check” blog post. “By voting to reduce funding for international reproductive health and family planning activities, eliminate funding for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), and reinstate the Global Gag Rule, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs threatens to turn back the clock on women’s health and has taken its disturbing war on women to a global stage,” she writes, referring to the House FY12 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill (7/27).
The contentious nature of abortion in American politics is “distracting U.S. policymakers from what should be the real conversation in a country that leads the world in human reproductive technology: whether to allow parents to use a growing range of methods to select for characteristics like sex (or diseases that come on late in life and, perhaps one day, IQ) in their children. Because sex selection is not just a developing world problem â€“ it’s an American problem, too,” Mara Hvistendahl, a Beijing-based correspondent with Science magazine, writes in a Foreign Policy opinion piece.