Among key achievements
For 40 years, HRP – The UNDP/UNFPA/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction – has been the main instrument within the United Nations system for research in human reproduction, bringing together policy-makers, scientists, health care providers, clinicians, consumers and community representatives to identify and address priorities for research to improve sexual and reproductive health.
Preventing unsafe abortion to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity
Unsafe abortion continues to be a major public health problem and a serious obstacle to achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 in many countries. About 22 million unsafe abortions occur each year causing close to 50 000 maternal deaths, almost all in developing countries. In addition, approximately 5 million women suffer short-term or lifelong disabilities due to complications resulting from unsafe abortion. Preventing unsafe abortion is, therefore, critical to reducing maternal mortality and morbidity. WHO plays the lead role among the UN Health Four (H4+) in preventing unsafe abortion and related mortality.
HRP’s work in promoting family planning has been critical in addressing unmet need for family planning and in reducing unplanned pregnancies and, consequently, abortion and unwanted births. However, continuing lack of access to effective contraceptives combined with contraceptive- or user-failure result in estimated 33 million unplanned pregnancies each year.
Non-surgical (medical) abortion
HRP played a catalytic role in the development of medical abortion care offering millions of women a choice of safe medical abortion technology. The most recent external evaluation of HRP showed that HRP trials have been instrumental in developing a low-cost formulation of safe and effective medical abortion regimen for the first-trimester (comprising mifepristone and misoprostol). The same evaluation showed that this development can potentially reduce unsafe abortions by 1 million and save 3600 lives annually if medical abortion is registered and available in countries where abortion is legally permitted on request.
“As the only UN agency that has since ICPD stayed committed to reducing unsafe abortion, WHO’s HRP team has boldly advanced the agenda of making abortions safer for women across the world through its research and evidence-informed technical/policy guidance.”
Dr Anna Glasier, Chair, HRP Scientific and Technical Advisory Group, 2004–2008
WHO/HRP Safe abortion technical and policy guidelines
These guidelines serve as a reference document for UN organizations, NGOs, professional associations, programme managers and health care providers. These have been published in several languages and are one of the most widely used Guidelines. An update of the Guidelines is due to be issued later this month. HRP is currently undertaking a series of operations research studies aimed at providing programmatic evidence to expand access to safer services in resource- poor settings using medical abortion and, where it is not against the law, focusing on the role of mid-level providers.