The United Nations and World Bank have pledged $200 million to improve women’s reproductive health and girls’ education in the Sahel region of Africa. The $200 million Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project will be added to the World Bank’s existing $150 million contribution over the next two years.
The pledge comes a month after the UN held a forum to discuss what needs to be done to achieve the fifth Millenium Development Goal (MDG5) of improving maternal health. They acknowledged that although progress has been made, MDG5 efforts must be scaled up to prevent 120,000 girls and women from needlessly dying by 2015.
Family planning is key to improving maternal health and achieving MDG5. Representatives at the United Nations emphasized the importance of all-inclusive access to contraception–a goal that has often been hampered by condom shortages and the precedence of abstinence-only sexual health programs. “It is about making sure that we can reduce maternal deaths through the reduction of bleeding, infections and blood pressure,” said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Babatunde Dr. Osotimehin.
While the pledge will have a positive effect, the total cost of medicine and health supplies needed for the next two years to prevent more maternal deaths is around $650 million. More funding, more access to birth control, the training and deploying of more midwives, and many other changes will help save hundreds of women’s lives. “Raising the age of marriage, keeping girls in school, enabling women through family planning to decide the spacing and number of their children, and investing in the health and education of young people, particularly young girls, can unlock a powerful demographic dividend and set countries in the Sahel on the path to sustained, inclusive social and economic growth,” said Osotimehin.