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World Bank Should Re-Evaluate Programs To Reduce Maternal Mortality

“The World Bank boasts that it has positioned itself as a ‘global leader’ in reproductive health, especially for youth and the poor,” but in 2011, it dedicated “just 0.2 percent of its $43 billion budget” to reproductive health projects, and much of that money was provided as loans, which can “leave poor countries indebted and threaten to divert domestic spending away from vital public health services,” Elizabeth Arend, program coordinator at Gender Action, writes in the Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog.” In addition, “[t]here is a striking mismatch between countries’ maternal mortality rates and the bank’s spending on reproductive health,” Arend states, citing the examples of Sierra Leone, where the lifetime average risk of dying from pregnancy or childbirth is one in 35 and the World Bank provides $7.43 per person, versus Niger, Liberia, or Somalia, where women “face an average lifetime one in 17 risk of maternal death, yet these countries receive no reproductive health funding from the bank at all.”

The bank’s “investments virtually ignore the risk of maternal injury and death that stem from unsafe abortion,” which accounts for 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide, and “many of the World Bank’s current reproductive health projects promote health care user fees, despite overwhelming evidence that such fees drastically reduce women’s health care access, exacerbate poverty and undermine efforts to reduce maternal mortality,” according to Arend. She concludes, “The World Bank must re-evaluate its strategies for reducing maternal mortality if it is ever going to live up to its claim of being a ‘global leader’ in improving reproductive health,” and it can start by “increase[ing] the number of grants it provides to expand access to reproductive and maternal health care — including post-abortion care — and eliminate any fees attached to these vital services” (3/6).