For healthcare professionals only


UK aid policy focuses on family planning for world’s women

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 29 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4135
  1. Peter Moszynski
  1. 1London

    The UK government is to put family planning at the heart of its approach to women’s health in the developing world, international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has said.

    The new approach will see a “significant increase” in the availability of family planning and a new focus on maternal and newborn health, accompanied by a “wide ranging” consultation exercise. Initial responses from development agencies have been largely positive, although there is concern that the focus on newborns will be at the expense of health care for under fives.

    Mr Mitchell’s department estimates there are currently 215 million 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. It estimates that increasing access could prevent up to 30% of all maternal deaths and 20% of newborn deaths.

    The new strategy highlights family planning, adolescent fertility, unsafe abortion, antenatal care, and skilled care at delivery. The department says that the failure to deal with these issues “contributes to up to 1000 women dying needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth every day.”

    Mr 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.”

    He said his department will now have “an unprecedented focus on family planning, which will be hard-wired into all our country programmes.”

    Claire Seaward, Oxfam’s Healthcare For All campaign manager, told the BMJ, “Women in poor countries must be given choices and control over their reproductive rights. A third of maternal deaths could actually be avoided if women had access to family planning and it’s great to see priority being given to this long-neglected issue.

    “But this cannot be at the expense of strengthening overall public health systems. The UK government must also address the chronic shortage of midwives and other health workers in poor countries and ensure that health care is free, so women are no longer paying with their lives.”

    Simon Wright, head of health at Save the Children, told the BMJ that the proposed government strategy focuses on mothers and newborns up to 28 days old, “but excludes the millions of children who die after the first month of life.”

    He said that of the almost nine million children who die before the age of five each year, 55% of them are older than one month. He added, “This means the deaths of nearly five million children are outside the focus of the government’s new plan.”

    He said this was counterproductive, because “child and maternal mortality are completely interdependent. When children have a better chance of surviving, women have fewer pregnancies, which lowers the risk of them dying.”

    He concluded, “The UK government is departing from globally agreed guidelines which clearly state that maternal, newborn, and child heath must be tackled together. Integrated health services improve efficiency, are more user friendly and reduce the costs of travelling multiple times and places.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4135

    View Abstract