Sexual and reproductive health

Message from Director RHR/HRP

July 2017

Photo portrait of Ian Askew
Ian Askew,WHO Director, Department of Reproductive Health and Research

Women and girls have a human right to choose whether and when to become pregnant. When they do not have access to high quality contraceptive and fertility care services and information to help them plan their families, their health and well-being can suffer. At the 2017 Family Planning Summit policy-makers, leaders, donors and contraception advocates came together to discuss how to intensify efforts in order to meet global goals for family planning.

I was honoured to join Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO at the event, alongside Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women’s and Children’s Health. The WHO leaders highlighted how the promotion of family planning – and ensuring access to preferred contraceptive methods for women and girls – is essential to securing the well-being, autonomy and empowerment of women, while supporting the health and development of communities.

On the occasion of the Family Planning Summit, a series of Evidence Briefs was launched by HRP/WHO, the STEP-UP Programme, Population Council and DFID to share and summarise the latest best evidence on what works to improve access, availability and choice of family planning for girls and women.

The world now has the largest ever cohort of adolescents in history. If their sexual and reproductive health needs are met - and in particular, their needs for contraception information and services - their future well-being, as well as the well-being and economic security of their families, communities and countries, will be vastly improved. On the occasion of the Summit, a commentary was published to highlight the data gaps and opportunities for action to improve and safeguard adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health.

People worldwide face a significant burden of disease as a result of sexually transmitted infections. Gonorrhoea is once such infection, and new data from 77 countries show that antibiotic resistance is making the infection much more difficult – and sometimes impossible – to treat. The data, published in PLOS and led by HRP staff, highlights the urgent need for new tools and systems for better prevention, as well as vaccines, point-of-care tests, earlier diagnosis and better tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures.

Gonorrhoea can be prevented through safer sex practices, in particular with consistent and correct condom use. It is therefore imperative that all people have access to sexual and reproductive information, education and communication – to help to promote safer sex practices, improve their ability to recognize the symptoms of gonorrhoea, and increase the likelihood they will seek care.

Ensuring high quality sexual and reproductive health care is crucial to ensure that women and their infants enjoy good health and well-being. A new update, led by HRP staff, of one of the oldest systematic reviews in the Cochrane Library, has found that one potential way to improve quality of care during childbirth in health facilities may be for women to be continuously supported by another person throughout labour. These findings underline the importance of providing respectful and high quality care to avoid preventable complications and improve experience of care before, during, and following pregnancy and childbirth for women and their babies.