Health and Healthcare Systems

Improving access to reproductive health services needs coordinated international partnerships

A doctor gives a pre-natal scan to a pregnant woman during a medical mission by an NGO in Iligan City, southern Philippines January 6, 2012.  Philippine President Benigno Aquino on August 6, 2012 successfully threw his weight behind a health bill promoting state-funded contraception, stepping out of his late mother Corazon's shadow as he pushes reforms widely opposed by the Roman Catholic Church. The bill, as it stands, requires governments down to the village level to provide free or low-cost reproductive health services. The law will not promote abortion, which is illegal. Picture taken January 6, 2012. REUTERS/Erik De Castro (PHILIPPINES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH SOCIETY)

Access to family planning services can have a longterm impact Image: REUTERS/Erik De Castro (PHILIPPINES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH SOCIETY)

Laura Gillespie
Project Fellow – Women’s Health Initiative, World Economic Forum Geneva, Senior Director, Global Health Advocacy, Hologic
Mandeep Singh, MD, MRCOG
CEO Women’s and Children’s, Consultant in Maternal and Fetal Medicine, Burjeel Farha, Burjeel Holdings PLC
Jennifer White
MD, FACEP, Director of Clinical Operations, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Jefferson Health
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Women and girls around the world have inadequate access to family planning services and care.
  • The United Nations SDG Target 3.7 aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services by 2030.
  • Initiatives in the US and the UAE hope to break down systemic barriers to family planning services and it is hoped that they will lead to similar programmes elsewhere in the world.

Women and girls around the world face inadequate family planning services and care. This insufficient access to family planning services negatively impacts women and girls and is caused by systemic issues: increasing regressive socio-political forces; and, global crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical conflict, displacement, natural catastrophes and other humanitarian emergencies.

The United Nations identified universal access to family planning as a significant global need through the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Meeting patient needs and the 2030 SDGs requires global cooperation and novel approaches. Two healthcare entities in distinct parts of the world – Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA and Burjeel Holdings PLC, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates – along with global medical technology company, Hologic Inc., demonstrate the power of international partnership. They are developing a solution by co-championing a project through the World Economic Forum’s Women’s Health Initiative to offer family planning services in hospital emergency departments and other healthcare facilities where family planning has not traditionally been offered.

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Family planning as an umbrella

Family planning is a central component of women's and girls’ reproductive and sexual health and rights. It covers a spectrum of issues, including the timing of a woman’s pregnancy from infertility to maternal health. These services are critical for many reasons, including how they empower women and how this empowerment positively impacts their communities. UNFPA reports in 2022 that each US dollar put into family planning and maternal health in developing countries provides a return of $8.40. Further investment would result in a return of $600 billion by 2050.

Improved access also helps prevent devastating impacts on women’s quality of life and ability to contribute to society. UNICEF reports that early childbearing and delivery impedes girls from obtaining additional education and affects their economic power and physical, mental and social health. For the second year, the Hologic Global Women’s Health Index found that women who report their first pregnancy earlier than age 19, as compared to those becoming pregnant at later ages, score poorer in the dimensions of health and well-being. These scores are an important measure of women’s health as they strongly correlate with a woman’s life expectancy at birth. Unhealthy women, and those with shorter lifespans, cannot fully participate in and contribute to society to their fullest capacity.

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Universal access to sexual and reproductive health services by 2030

The United Nations underscored the importance of family planning in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG Target 3.7 aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services by 2030. This includes family planning, information and education. Doing so requires a global partnership among and between the public, private, non-profit and academic sectors. US-based Jefferson Health, Burjeel Holdings headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and global company Hologic demonstrate this type of cooperation.

Bringing family planning to emergency departments

Jefferson Health identified and decided to take action on systemic barriers to family planning services in the City of Philadelphia and is dedicated to finding a solution. Like many underserved communities where women and girls have limited access to reproductive and sexual healthcare through established channels, the Emergency Department offers a platform that offers universal access to family planning discussions. There are 6,000 emergency departments in the US and approximately 20 million women of childbearing age seek care in an emergency department every year. This offers a great opportunity to provide increased access, especially to underserved and marginalised populations.

Philadelphia suffers from some of the worst deep poverty in the US. A core component of deep poverty is a large number of single-mother households, which leads to a cycle of poverty across generations. Thus, social action that solves for mothers solves for their communities and society. Taking a key from past, successful and proactive efforts to address community health challenges through the emergency department, Jefferson Health endeavours to do the same for family planning.

On the other side of the world in Abu Dhabi, Burjeel Holdings also saw an opportunity to increase access to family planning services by offering the services in a novel way through its healthcare facilities. Burjeel Holdings operates several healthcare facilities in the UAE, Oman and India and is committed to expanding its services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Africa over the next few years. Its healthcare facilities provide care in all specialities, including women’s and preventive health.

Supporting Burjeel Holdings’ commitment to increased access, a 2019 study carried out in the UAE to help inform family planning services found that 80% of female participants reported family planning counselling as essential. While United Nations data shows the use of contraception among married women in the UAE grew from 25.9% in 1990 to 51.4% by 2022. This study also highlighted the need for better information and education, partner involvement and coverage of reliable contraceptive methods by insurance providers.

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Holding independent, but concurrent and similar goals, along with Hologic the healthcare entities each committed to leading the Women’s Health Initiative’s Family Planning in the Emergency Department project.

Supported by existing and ongoing research in the US, this project is developing a creative programme to provide family planning services in emergency departments that aims to be useful across the US and, where possible, in other countries. A model programme will also be developed to provide care to women of childbearing age in the UAE that is potentially scalable to India, Oman and Saudi Arabia, totalling over 370 million individuals.

This novel family planning project led by an international partnership will have positive effects on the lives of women and girls and, in turn, communities and societies around the world.

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