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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'll be honest, I don't know a lot about global health, particularly that of the "developing world". I do know that diseases and conditions easily treated in the western world, are death sentences for many in developing countries. We have access to drugs and medical services that medical personnel in those countries probably dream of. So why is it that we would block life saving medical services? Let me rephrase that. Why would politicians of "developed nations" purposefully block funding to programs that can and do save lives? This is a question we should ask those participating in the G-8 Summit that is currently happening in Ontario, Canada.

The G-8 Summit is an annual gathering of world leaders from traditionally developed nations that have long held power over worldwide policies and initiatives. The countries represented in the G-8 are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union (which isn't a country but a coalition of most European countries). According to the website for the G-8 Summit 2010 the summit "addresses a wide range of issues in areas such as international development, health and peace and security." So, what exactly is happening in this year's G-8 Summit?

Some of the items that are on the agenda this year are security - nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful and safe use of nuclear energy (is that possible?), political and economic support in Africa, and something I'm kind of surprised to see -- maternal and child health. It's nice to see women's health presented as urgent. Let's look more at what the G-8 wants to do to improve women's and children's health care throughout the developing world.

Maternal health truly is and should be a worldwide concern. Hundreds of thousands of women die giving birth each year. Women are expected to give so much of themselves for the sake of reproduction (that's a woman's purpose, right?). Many (most?) of the people living in the developing world live in conditions we would consider deplorable. The spread of diseases like HIV, TB, and malaria cause incredibly difficult conditions for women and their children who can be particularly vulnerable. So the focus on maternal and child health sounds great, right? As we all know, nothing is perfect.

The problem with this plan is that they don't want to provide funding for family planning, contraception, or abortion (and by they I mean Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper). Not only that, he wants to withhold money from any organizations that provide abortions. We know that you can't really have maternal health without including family planning services. The UNFPA estimates that about 74,000 women worldwide die every year from unsafe abortions. These unsafe abortions occur because of laws restricting access, health workers with little or no training, no access to a health worker, etc. I think you get it. There's a reason why complications for abortions in the US and the rest of the developed world are so low. Stephen Harper is a conservative, but abortion is legal in Canada and funded by their public health care! What is going on here? Why do his political views get to interfere with the health of women? Why is this coming from Canada?! Even the US representative spoke out against this policy. “You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions,” U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says. (FINALLY!)

Wake up Stephen Harper. Women will have abortions. Women need access to safe abortion care. They need access to all facets of family planning and contraception. The only thing these restrictions do is put women in unsafe conditions. If she can't get a safe abortion, she'll go somewhere to get an abortion that will likely be unsafe, could make her very sick, and could possibly kill her. But I guess Stephen Harper won't think about that.

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