World Population Day, observed on July 11, serves as an urgent reminder that, even amidst a global recession and tight budgets, governments around the world must boost investments in global health—especially the health of mothers.

Efforts to date have fallen far short of our stated objectives: The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015. But the financial resources and political will needed to promote maternal health have been lagging and, as a result, the world is hardly any closer to reaching this goal today than it was nine years ago, when the international community adopted the MDGs.

One critical shortcoming of current efforts has been the reluctance of some governments and advocates to accept that better maternal health cannot be achieved without acknowledging, committing to and fully funding sexual and reproductive health services. Specifically, this includes contraceptive services to help women time and space pregnancies as well as treatment of septic or incomplete abortions. It also includes providing safe abortion services consistent with individual country law.

Despite the lack of decisive progress on improving maternal health globally, there is some good news. New momentum behind worldwide advocacy efforts may yield the resources and political commitment needed to make a difference. But these efforts will succeed only if improving sexual and reproductive health is an explicit part of the overall effort.

The bottom line is that, long after dying in pregnancy and childbirth has become virtually unheard of in industrialized countries, so much needless maternal death persists in the developing world. It is precisely because resources are scarce that they must be used wisely and efficiently in a way that serves both humanitarian and economic development goals. Investing in saving women’s lives fits this bill.

Click here for more information on:

The ways that promoting sexual and reproductive health advances maternal health

What the United States can do to restore its leadership in global sexual and reproductive health policy