Department for International Development
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Mitchell: "New focus on family planning to reduce deaths in pregnancy and childbirth"

Mitchell: "New focus on family planning to reduce deaths in pregnancy and childbirth"

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 26 July 2010

The UK Government is to put family planning at the heart of its approach to women’s health in the developing world in an attempt to reduce the persistently high number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth, Andrew Mitchell announced today.

The new approach will see a significant increase in the availability of family planning to meet the demands of some of the world’s poorest women.

Mr Mitchell said the international community had failed millions of women by ignoring the complexities of why at least a third of a million women in the world’s poorest countries die each year during pregnancy and childbirth.

There are currently 215m women in the developing world who would like to delay or avoid their next pregnancy, but do not have access to modern family planning methods. Increasing access could prevent up to 30 per cent of all maternal deaths and 20 per cent of newborn deaths.

This approach – including tackling head on the unmet need for family planning – marks a significant shift in the UK’s approach to addressing the most off-track Millennium Development Goal: to improve maternal health.

Speaking at the launch of a wide ranging public consultation, “Choice for women – wanted pregnancies, safe births”, which will seek the views of development experts, health professionals and the public on the proposed direction of the Department’s policy, Andrew Mitchell said:

"It is clear why reproductive and maternal health is the most off-track of all the Millennium Development Goals. The international community has failed to assist millions of women by ignoring the complexities of why at least a third of a million women in the world’s poorest countries die during pregnancy and childbirth each year. For too long we’ve been trying to tackle the issue with one hand tied behind our backs.

"DFID will now have an unprecedented focus on family planning, which will be hard-wired into all our country programmes."

The Department for International Development’s new consultation on reproductive, maternal and newborn health highlights a range of issues including family planning, adolescent fertility, unsafe abortion, antenatal care, and skilled care at delivery. Failure to address these issues contributes to up to 1,000 women dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth every day.

Last month the G8 pledged to prevent 1.3 million under five deaths, 64,000 maternal deaths and enable an additional 12 million women to have access to modern family planning over the next five years. Britain will play a key role in meeting this commitment.

Consistent with the Government’s commitment to value for money, key proposals for UK action on cutting deaths of mothers and babies during pregnancy and childbirth could include:

Scaling-up access to family planning - Every year there are 75 million unintended pregnancies. A third of all maternal deaths could be avoided if women had access to family planning. Scaling up the provision of contraception in developing countries could help meet the unmet need and reduce the number of deaths. This includes ensuring that women can access modern methods of family planning such as implants, injectables and IUDs.

Addressing unsafe abortion: Every year unsafe abortion results in up to 70,000 maternal deaths in developing countries. A further 8 million women and girls need medical treatment. Only 5 million receive it. Ensuring abortion services are safe, and that post abortion care is provided, saves lives. And increasing access to family planning will avert many thousands of unintended pregnancies and abortions every year.

Making birth safe - The minutes and hours around childbirth is the time when the risk of death is greatest for mothers and their babies: a total of over 2 million birth-related deaths occur globally each year. For mothers who die around the time of birth, it is rare for their baby to survive. To address this, women need to be able to access skilled and motivated health workers in the right place at the right time, who have the drugs, equipment and infrastructure for a safe delivery.

Health practitioners, charities and other experts in the field will be invited to give their views to help prioritise the government’s work in these areas. The public will also be consulted as part of the department’s drive to increase transparency and accountability, ensuring they have a say in how their money is spent.

Notes to editors:

The consultation will run for 12 weeks and the deadline for responses is Tuesday 20 October. To view the link online go to

Almost all maternal deaths are in the developing world.

For every woman who dies, another 20 to 30 are disabled or suffer debilitating illness – many of whom go untreated.

The lifetime risk of death from complications in pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 8 in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, compared to 1 in 8,200 in the UK – a 1,000 fold difference in the risk of dying.

Globally, about one third of pregnancies are unintended. Every year 35 million pregnancies in the developing world end in induced abortion. An estimated 20 million of these abortions are unsafe and result in up to 70,000 maternal deaths each year.

Every year 3.5 million newborn babies die within the first 28 days of life. Up to 45% of these deaths are in the first 24 hours after birth.

DFID, the Department for International Development: leading the UK Government's fight against world poverty. Find out more at


Department for International Development
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