We are deeply concerned with reports that the draft Health, Nutrition and Population Strategy for the World Bank, which we understand the Bank’s board will review in mid-April 2007, misses the opportunity to support access to family planning and contraception as keys to combating global poverty. This potential omission stands in sharp contrast to the World Bank’s World Development Report of 2007, which emphasizes access to comprehensive sex education, contraception, and safe abortion as essential to reducing poverty. We urge you to ensure that the Bank’s health strategy reflects this crucial link explicitly.

Multiple studies from various countries show that early pregnancy and pregnancies without proper spacing are major contributing factors to poverty and ill-health. Sexual and reproductive health programs play a critical role in HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment. Moreover, as the World Bank has so forcefully stated in the past, health is the foundation for economic development. Abandoning explicit support for family planning, including funding of all forms of contraceptives, comprehensive sex education, and access to safe abortion, undermines the Bank’s goals to combat poverty.

We understand that the current draft strategy proposes to “emphasize options for improving demand for reproductive health advice and services by strengthening female education, improving women’s economic opportunities and reducing gender disparities.” These efforts are vital, but cannot substitute for more programming that includes comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services, including all forms of contraceptives, comprehensive sex education, and access to safe abortion.

Human Rights Watch’s research from a number of countries highlights the importance of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programs in advancing equality, development, and human dignity. We would be pleased to share our experience with you on these issues should you want more information.

We thank you in advance for your attention and ask that you ensure that the World Bank’s final Health, Nutrition and Population Strategy give explicit attention to the crucial issue of advancing access to comprehensive reproductive health care and information.

Sincerely,

LaShawn R. Jefferson
Executive Director
Women’s Rights Division

Joseph Amon
Executive Director
HIV/AIDS and Human Rights Program