500,000 Women die annually due to pregnancy, birth complications


Tehran : United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative in Iran Mohamed Abdel-Ahad in his speech on the occasion World Population Day ceremony held here at Tehran University said out of 190 million women who become pregnant annually, more than half a million die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

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“I would like to extend a very warm welcome and congratulate you and all the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran on World Population Day. Commemoration of this day is indeed a special occasion in Iran, a country that has made strong headway in the field of population and reproductive health, receiving the prestigious United Nations Population Award twice in the last decade.,” he said according to UN Information Center.

“I welcome this opportunity to pay tribute to the winners of this award, His Excellency Dr. Marandi, former Minister of Health and member of Majlis and Dr. Malek Afzali, former Deputy Minister of Health.”

He said that the world recognizes Iran’s substantial achievements in reproductive health, especially in terms of improving maternal health and widening access to family planning.

“As you know, reproductive health goes well beyond the absence of disease related to reproductive processes. It is defined as the state of complete physical, mental and social well- being of women and men throughout their lives.

“Reproductive health services are critical to protecting mothers and their babies and promoting the well-being of the whole family.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Millennium Development Goals attach priority to ensuring universal access to reproductive health care under the goal of improving maternal health.

“Unfortunately, millions of women in the world lack access to reproductive health care.

“Every year 190 million women become pregnant. More than half a million women die annually from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The number of women who suffer severe disabilities is far higher.

“Nearly a quarter of pregnant women, some 50 million resort to abortion, with deadly consequences for 68,000 of them. The death or disability of mothers shatters entire families, threatening the well- being of surviving children.

“Three reproductive health interventions could prevent nearly all of this needless death and disability: skilled attendance at birth, emergency obstetric care and family planning.

This year World Population Day takes on one these three important pillars of maternal health with the theme “Family Planning: “It’s a right let’s make it real.”
In 1968, the international year of human rights, UN Member States recognized the rights of individuals and couples to plan their families. This right was reaffirmed at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994.

“As stated in the ICPD Programme of Action, “All couples and individuals have the basic right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing and timing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so.”
The aim of family planning is to ensure informed choices and make available a full range of safe and effective methods of contraception.”

In addition, the concept of family planning and child spacing is deeply rooted in the Holy Quran, the teachings of Islam and the tradition that Prophet Mohamed SAW more than fourteen hundred years ago.

Planning for one’s family and all aspects of life is a fundamental principle in Islam, which attaches significance to the benevolence, virtue and prosperity of human beings. The Holy Quran calls on mothers to space their children at least 30 months apart, including or a minimum of 6 months of pregnancy and two years of breast feeding.

In al Ahqaf (Sura 46), the Quran says “His bearing and weaning is thirty months.”
In al Baqara (Sura 223) the Quran states: “And mothers shall suckle their children two full years for those who wish to complete breast feeding.”

Prophet Mohammad SAW warned against feeding a baby from the milk of a pregnant mother. Both Sunni and Shia scholars relied on holy Quran and the tradition of the Prophet in issuing Islamic Fatwas in support of child spacing or family planning.

In 2003, the Ministry of Health and Medical Education in Iran published a book on Islamic edicts on family planning, which is a compilation of Fatwas mostly from Imam Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei on the subject.

Indeed, family planning is a central component of reproductive health and a key to the health and well-being of mothers, children, families, communities and society at large. Family planning yields enormous health and development benefits for human beings.

It saves women’s and children’s lives by preventing unintended and unwanted pregnancies and recourse to abortion.

Research has shown that family planning can reduce maternal death by a third and child death by 20 per cent.

Increasing birth intervals to at least 36 months could prevent the deaths of 1.8 million young children annually.

Moreover, some barrier family planning methods can prevent sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Contraceptives can help HIV- positive women avoid unwanted pregnancy and can prevent mother-to-child transmission of this deadly virus.

Family planning also contributes to the well-being and prosperity of the family. Birth spacing enables mothers to devote more time and energy to care for their families and to participate in the social and economic life of their communities.

Smaller and healthier families have a better chance of escaping from poverty and can set aside money for education of their children.

Despite the importance of family planning, some 200 million women worldwide who would like to delay or prevent their next pregnancy are not using effective contraceptives.

Meeting their needs would cost about $3.9 billion a year and could prevent 142,000 pregnancy-related deaths and the loss of 1.4 million infants.

Most poor countries have adopted population and family planning policies, but many lack funds or the political will to implement them.

High-level political and financial commitment to promote family planning is urgently needed at the global, regional and national levels.

UNFPA provides technical and financial assistance to some 140 countries to promote maternal health and voluntary family planning in the context of reproductive health.

UNFPA’s mission is to support countries to ensure that every pregnancy wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free from HIV/AIDS and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, UNFPA has forged a strong partnership over the past thirty years or so with the Ministry of Health and Medical Education in the area of reproductive health, including family planning.

This partnership has yielded significant results, which are well manifested in reproductive health indicators.

Since 1990, maternal and infant deaths have been cut by half.

Pre-natal care and safe delivery in maternity centres and hospitals have become almost universal. The contraceptive prevalence rate has increased to about 79 percent for all methods.

Today, Iran should tell the rest of the world its success story of family planning. The country has provided an excellent example on how family planning can be promoted in the context of Islam.

Iran’s achievements would not have been possible without the commitment of Government at the highest political level to reproductive health, the support of religious leaders and their pragmatic interpretation of Islamic teachings, the integration of family planning in a nationwide primary health care system and the removal of socio-economic barriers to contraception.

However, some challenges still lie ahead, such as the need to improve the quality of maternal health and family planning care and reduce peri-natal mortality.

There is also a need to fill the unmet need for family planning.

This requires ensuring continued access to reliable family planning contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies.

UNFPA collaborates closely with the Ministry of Health and Medical Education to address such challenges by upgrading clinical protocols, improving the skills of midwives and gynaecologists, promoting the concept of mother-friendly hospitals and developing an integrated system to monitor and evaluate reproductive health services.

Efforts are underway to ensure reproductive health commodity security and to sensitize men to reproductive health and gender issues.

The success of family planning in Iran has opened up a demographic window of opportunity for rapid socio-economic growth, which the country has yet to reap.

Family planning accelerated the demographic transition in Iran and affected the age structure of the population.

Most of those who were born in the 1980’s are now in their productive and reproductive years. They are part of the large working age population (15 – 60 years), which includes two thirds of Iranians.

If greater investments are made for this group in job creation, skill development, health (including reproductive health care and family planning) and other social services, GDP per capita will increase.

Smaller families will be able to save, invest and increase the nation’s productivity, thereby accelerating socio-economic progress.

The population structure in Iran today resembles that of East Asian countries, also known as the Asian Tigers, in the period 1965 -1990.

Those countries were able to achieve remarkable economic growth, in part by reaping the benefits of this demographic dividend.

A similar demographic window of opportunity in Iran will last for one or two decades, and should be utilized before it is too late.

I would like to conclude by calling on all development partners in Iran including Government, Parliament, civil society, the UN and the public at large for renewed commitment to family planning for the health, well being and prosperity of the Iranian people, their families and the society at large, he said.