Yesterday, after a contentious election cycle, Donald Trump was elected the next President of the United States. As the 45th official to the hold the office, Trump will set the agenda for international development and global reproductive health issues, where he holds no voting record and has not issued comprehensive policy positions throughout his campaign. As the US government is currently the largest bilateral donor of family planning in the world and supports voluntary family planning and reproductive health programs in nearly 40 countries, it is critical that Trump supports women’s health and rights.
Family planning is crucial to prevent unintended pregnancies, maternal and infant deaths and unsafe abortions in the US and around the world. US funding for international family planning enables government agencies like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), global partners like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and implementers like Marie Stopes International (MSI) to deliver services for underserved women and girls. In addition, this funding alleviates extreme poverty and improves women’s opportunities for education, employment and participation in their communities.
In many settings, the infrastructure MSI has built to deliver reproductive health services has benefits far beyond family planning. One recent example of how US government’s contribution to UNFPA helped MSI provide lifesaving services occurred in Nepal last year. As one of the key reproductive health care providers in the country, Marie Stopes Nepal was positioned to offer lifesaving health care when disaster struck.
Disaster in Nepal
In April 2015, Nepal experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake followed by aftershocks and subsequent deadly hits. The results were devastating: nearly 9,000 people were killed, and more than 22,000 others were injured. It’s estimated that the earthquake affected 1.4 million women and girls of reproductive age in the hardest-hit districts, including 93,000 pregnant women. Each month following the earthquake, more than 10,000 women in childbirth required emergency obstetric care.
Access to contraceptive care became more important than ever as women’s and girls’ already existing vulnerability to sexual assault and rape increased. Research shows that rates of sexual violence grow as families flee the safety of their homes, often to crowded camps or remote areas where they must travel to access food, water or firewood.
The health infrastructure also was destroyed from huge losses to public facilities, made worse by injury and death to frontline providers, damaged roads, and broken supply chains preventing medicine and supplies from reaching those in need. Remote communities, already isolated, were disproportionately impacted following the earthquake.
US funding as a lifeline
When reproductive and maternal health services became increasingly inaccessible following the earthquake, US funding, channeled through UNFPA, supported MSI and others to reach women and adolescents in need. The infrastructure to deliver family planning enabled communities to receive lifesaving health care when disaster struck. In the months following, Marie Stopes provided reproductive health services to the most vulnerable clients, including voluntary family planning counseling and:
- 2,843 general and gynecological check-ups
- 586 contraceptive implant insertions
- 886 pre- and post-natal visits
- 335 safe delivery kits distributed
MSI Nurse Anita Dhakal was providing outreach services for long-acting contraceptives before the earthquake hit, serving the areas in Nepal most devastated by the disaster. “People were suffering not knowing where their families were,” she recounted. “We provided services, but counseling as well. We had eight successful [newborn] deliveries. It was a huge impact. If we were not there, women would have traveled great distances to access basic health care and risk losing their life.”
Like the earthquake in Nepal did, disasters often increase the barriers women and girls already face to accessing care. In Nepal, US funding supported UNFPA and Marie Stopes to deliver emergency care and family planning where there wasn’t an existing infrastructure or network. Service providers like Anita have seen this positive impact first hand. “I still meet with disaster-stricken communities every day. They are still living under tents, but slowly they are trying to heal their pain and suffering, and we are seeing some reflection of smiles,” she explained.
US funding and supportive policies for international development and family planning programs make a lifesaving difference for underserved women and families around the world. Without it, MSI and our partners wouldn’t have been able to reach vulnerable communities in Nepal, or in other high-risk environments like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The new Trump administration must prioritize women and girls’ health, including expanding access to reproductive health care that improves health outcomes and increases economic opportunity, everyday—and when disaster strikes.
It’s unknown where Trump will fall in his funding for women’s sexual and reproductive health care, but we do know that MSI will continue to be there, reaching the women and girls who need us most.
Pitch in to ensure that no matter what changes come in January 2017, underserved women around the world have access to contraceptive choice.