(Not for release before 3 December 2002)
Poor health is both a cause and
consequence of poverty. In the least developed countries,
life expectancy is just 49 years and one in 10 children
do not reach their first birthday.
Poor people in a 41-country survey cited illness most
frequently as the cause of their slide into poverty.
For women in developing countries, poor reproductive
health is responsible for one fifth of the burden of disease
and 40 per cent for women in sub-Saharan Africa.
Reproductive health has some of the largest gaps between
rich and poor. This translates into less opportunity for poor
women and families to break out of poverty.
Poor women face a risk of dying during pregnancy and
birth that is up to 600 times higher than for women in
developed nations. One woman dies every minute, over half
a million women a year.
A woman’s lifetime risk of dying
due to maternal causes is one in 19 in Africa, one in 132 in
Asia, one in 188 in Latin America, compared to one in 2,976
in developed countries. Skilled birth attendants could
reduce these risks.
Yet, in South Asia, the poor are only one
tenth as likely as the rich to use them; in the Middle
East and North Africa, they are less than one sixth as likely.
The poorest women start their childbearing
youngest. In many developing countries, women marry
and start bearing children between the ages of 15 and
19. In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in
East Asia and the Pacific, the young in poor households
have children at more than five times the rate of the
where family planning has not been fully accepted and
opportunities are limited, people view births and family
size as unchangeable conditions, within which they make
Investment in basic health services
in developing countries is only a fraction of what is
needed. Low-income countries are spending only $21 per
capita per year on health care, much of it for expensive
curative services rather than basic prevention and care.
The World Health Organization (WHO)/World Bank Commission
on Macro-economics and Health estimated that an additional
$30 billion per year is needed. Reproductive health
must be a priority.
Regardless of income, countries can design their health
systems to improve access to services for the poor. Viet
Nam has reduced the differences between the richest and
poorest on most health measures, including those related
to reproductive health, to less than 2 to 1.
Better health, including reproductive
health, and education contribute to economic growth.
Better education helps women to protect their own and
their children’s health and widens economic choices.
Higher incomes improve living environments, reduce malnutrition
and provide a buffer against the costs of poor health.