02-19-2017  10:41 pm      •     

None of the crises we face today -- whether it is the food crisis, the water crisis, the financial crisis or the crisis of climate change -- can be managed unless greater attention is paid to population issues.
World Population Day is the right time to put the issue of population back on the radar screen. And it is not a moment too soon. By 2050 our current global population of 6.8 billion could grow to the United Nation's median projection of 9 billion, or even soar to 11 billion people.
But what is not widely appreciated is that the projection of a 9 billion global population is premised on a substantial reduction in fertility in the least developed countries and this requires a dramatic expansion in access to voluntary family planning.
Recently we heard President Barrack Obama, in his address from Cairo, say that denying a woman her education is denying her equality.
I would add another area that is vital for broadening women's horizons, one to which governments agree, it is improving access to health. The right to sexual and reproductive health is essential for advancing women's empowerment and equality between women and men.
Some 200 million women today want to plan and space their births but lack access to safe and effective contraception. According to the latest figures, just 1 in 4 married women in the least developed countries are using modern contraception and a further one-quarter of those women had an unmet need for family planning. So there is a high unmet need for family planning, and the need to expand these services is urgent.
It is important to note that investments in women and reproductive health are not only decisive for overcoming poverty, they are also cost-effective. For example, an investment in contraceptive services can be recouped four times over -- and sometimes dramatically more over the long-term -- by reducing the need for public spending on health, education, housing, sanitation and other social services.
That's why the International Conference on Population and Development proposed a plan 15 years ago in Cairo to ensure universal access to reproductive health by 2015. This target now appears in the Millennium Development Goals, under MDG5 to improve maternal health, and this is an area where we need to make far greater progress.
The sad and shocking truth is that maternal mortality represents the largest health inequity in the world. And of all the Millennium Development Goals, MDG 5 to improve maternal health is lagging the furthest behind. With the financial crisis and the reduction in budgets for health, solving these problems will be even harder.
Clearly we need to do more to improve women's health. The health benefits of these investments are well known, well documented and substantial. It is estimated that ensuring access to voluntary family planning could reduce maternal deaths by 25 to 40 percent, and child deaths by as much as 20 percent. The World Bank estimates that ensuring skilled care in delivery and particularly access to emergency obstetric care would reduce maternal deaths by about 74 percent.
Access to reproductive health helps women and girls avoid unwanted or early pregnancy, unsafe abortions and pregnancy-related disabilities. Women stay healthier, are more productive, and have more opportunities for education, training and employment, which in turn, benefits entire families, communities and nations.
In March, the World Bank reported that the current economic crisis could lead to increases in infant and maternal deaths, female school dropout rates, and violence against girls and women. Regardless of this economic crisis, investment in women and girls must continue if not increase.
In war or peace, natural or man-made disaster, prosperous economy or financial crisis, women continue to get pregnant. And when they do, what happens to them is quite limited: give birth safely, abort safely or unsafely, miscarry, or simply die while giving birth. These facts of life cannot be stopped or postponed. But we cannot excuse ourselves when women die while giving birth simply because there is a financial crisis.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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