Conservative forces hampering progress in sexual and reproductive health

The increasing influence of conservative political, religious, and cultural forces around the world threatens to undermine progress in sexual and reproductive health (SRH), according to the first article in The Lancet's Sexual and Reproductive Health Online/Series published today (Wednesday November 1, 2006).

In the paper, Anna Glasier (University of Edinburgh, UK), Metin Gulmezoglu (World Health Organization) and colleagues highlight the enormous burden of sexual and reproductive ill-health. Every year, 340 million new patients acquire gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, or trichomonas, more than 120 million couples have an unmet need for contraception, 80 million women have unintended pregnancies, and an estimated 19 million women undergo unsafe abortions; 70 000 of them die as a result.

Cheap, effective measures are available to prevent unintended pregnancy, provide safe abortions, help women safely through pregnancy and childbirth, and prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections. But opposition from conservative groups is hampering the provision of these life-saving strategies in almost all countries. The authors say that overcoming this opposition is the greatest challenge to sexual-health promotion globally and the best example of the detrimental intrusion of politics into public health.

In a Comment to introduce the Online/Series, Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, states: "Sex, abortion, and birth control, and sexually transmitted infection (including HIV/AIDS) are taboo subjects for many countries, cultures, and religions. For example, for largely political reasons, the USA has blocked programmes to save the lives of women from unwanted pregnancy. For doctrinal reasons, the Catholic Church has rejected simple and effective techniques that would have substantial impact not only on fertility rates but also on rates of human development."

In an accompanying Comment, Gareth Thomas (UK Department for International

Contact: Joe Santangelo

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