WASHINGTON (AFP) — Giving women in poor nations better access to birth control and education would help to slash millions of unwanted births in the developing world, the World Bank said Thursday.
"Fifty-one million unintended pregnancies in developing countries occur every year to women not using contraception," the World Bank said in a statement released on the eve of World Population Day.
Although birth rates have fallen in the past 30 years, in 35 countries -- 31 in sub-Saharan Africa and East Timor, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and Yemen -- birth rates are more than five children per mother.
A global approach, encompassing not only contraception but also better access to education, is needed to bring down the fertility rate in countries where it is still too high and puts the lives of women at risk, said Sadia Chowdhury, senior reproductive and child health specialist at the World Bank.
"Girls' and women's education is just as important in reducing birth rates as supplying contraception," said Chowdhury, who is also a pediatrician.
"Women's education provides life-saving knowledge, builds job skills that allow her to join the workforce and marry later in life, gives her the power to say how many children she wants and when.
"And these are enduring qualities she will hand down to her daughters as well," said Chowdhury, co-author of a World Bank report on contraception and unintended pregnancies in Africa, eastern Europe and central Asia.
Countries with a high birth rate also tend to have high maternal mortality, infant mortality and poverty, and poor education, health care, and nutrition, Chowdhury said.
"It all adds up. When you see one thing not happening, you see other development aspects not happening," she said.
Women who have poor access to contraception often turn to abortion as a means of birth control, the report said.
But according to the report, around half the 42 million abortions performed annually are unsafe, and some 68,000 women die each year as a result of abortion.
Another 5.3 million suffer temporary or permanent disability.
Abortion is also more costly than contraceptive services, the report says.
"Findings from ... Nigeria suggest that the annual cost of post-abortion care (estimated at 19 million dollars) is approximately four times the cost of contraceptive services (estimated at 4.5 million dollars) to prevent induced abortions; and it consumes about 3.4 percent of total health expenditures," the report says.
"If contraception were provided to the 137 million women who lack access, maternal mortality would decline by 25-35 percent," it says.
The World Bank called for better and expanded information to be made available to a broad range of society -- both men and women -- as well as easier access to quality contraceptive services.
Among the benefits to be had from readily available contraceptive methods and correctly practiced birth control would be fewer maternal and infant deaths, as well as a reduction in the transmission rate of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, it said.
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