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Document Abstract
Published: 15 Jun 2008

Poor health, poor women: how reproductive health affects poverty

Does poor reproductive health prevent poor women from escaping poverty?
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This article stresses the importance of reproductive health of women and its role in escaping or remaining in poverty. The article refers to data showing poor households tending to be larger and poor women tending to have higher rates of fertility. However, experts debate as to whether these conditions cause poverty or are symptoms of poverty. Poor reproductive health outcomes— early childbearing, maternal mortality/morbidity, and unintended/mistimed pregnancy—have negative effects on overall health, and, under certain circumstances, on education and household well-being. This would push a household into poverty.

The article discusses the 1994, International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt, which led the reproductive health field to a major change. Instead of viewing family planning solely as a way to “control” population growth, policymakers and practitioners re-envisioned it as part of a comprehensive approach that sought to empower women, meet men and women’s stated health needs, and improve sexual health and quality of life. The donor agencies and development banks have shifted support from specific health services (e.g., maternal health or family planning) to entire health sector programs, with some funding targeted for high-priority problems such as HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases.

This article calls for a response to this change in donor priorities by demonstrating that poor reproductive health does, in fact, make it more difficult for a woman and her family to escape poverty. Simple, clear-cut causality between reproductive health and poverty reduction is very difficult to demonstrate because existing research has not thoroughly addressed the effects of poor reproductive health on household poverty. Hence further research is needed to clarify these links. Specifically the article recommends microanalysis to analyze these complex, context-specific household level relationships.

The article mentions that there is an intuitive understanding that poor reproductive health has negative long-term consequences for health, education, and household well-being. Researchers in the population and reproductive health fields must field-test this intuition by analysing the empirical relationships and publicising the results. The most logical place to start would be to use specific measures of maternal ill-health or closely spaced pregnancies to analyse their effects on children’s schooling and health. This can be done using existing panel data with additional modules that elucidate the relationship between reproductive health and poverty. Such research efforts would help pave the way for incorporating reproductive health into poverty reduction programs.
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Authors

M. E. Greene

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