The United Nations Population Fund has defined reproductive health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of reproductive disease or infirmity’. When referring to women’s reproductive health, more often than not, it is assumed that it is all about the reproductive system – vagina, cervix, uterus, etc. However, there is more to women’s reproductive health than the reproductive system – it deals with the reproductive processes as well as the functions and systems of all stages of life.
Therefore, reproductive health implies that:
- People are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life;
- Individuals have the capability to reproduce, hence:
- Have the right to be informed of, and have access to, safe, affordable, effective and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice;
- Women have the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable them to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth; and
- Couples are provided with the best chance of having a healthy infant.
- Individuals have the freedom to decide if, when, and how often they should reproduce, through being provided with information on family planning methods as well as other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility, which are not against the law.
Reproductive health is a crucial part of general health, and a central feature of every human being’s development, and should therefore be understood in the context of relationships, fulfilment and risk, the opportunity to have a desired child / how to avoid unwanted or unsafe pregnancy.
Some of the most common reproductive health interventions include:
- Family planning;
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) prevention and management;
- Prevention of maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity;
- Harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), pulling of the clitoris;
- Unwanted pregnancy;
- Unsafe abortion;
- Reproductive tract infections, including STDs and HIV/AIDS;
- Gender-based violence;
- Malnutrition and anaemia; and
- Reproductive tract cancers.
Appropriate services need to be provided and made accessible to all individuals, especially young girls and women who are of reproductive age. These services need to include information, education, counseling, prevention, detection and management of health problems, care and rehabilitation.
Some of the factors affecting reproductive health include individuals’:
- Economic circumstances
- Living conditions
- Family environment
- Social and gender relationships
- Traditional and legal structures
It is important to note that the status of girls and women in society, and how they are treated or mistreated, is crucial in determining their reproductive health. Educational opportunities for girls and women powerfully affect their status and the control they have over their own lives and their health and fertility. The empowerment of women is therefore essential for their health.
Women bear, by far, the greatest burden of reproductive health problems, which include:
- Complications from pregnancy and childbirth;
- Risks in preventing unwanted pregnancy;
- Complications of unsafe abortion;
- Bearing the most burden of contraception; and
- Exposure to contracting, and suffering the complications of reproductive tract infections, especially STDs.
Based on the above information, it is evident that reproductive includes sexual health and sexual rights. The next blog post will be on reproductive rights – what the include and who is protected under these rights…
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Written by: Linda Bonareri @linda_bonareri (@ywli_info)