Not everyone has access to sexual and reproductive health services. In a pioneering report, a commission of health and human rights experts outline why this is an issue — and how it can be solved. In order to advance people's health, it's imperative to advance their rights. For too long, however, many policymakers have taken such a narrow view of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that it has typically excluded rights completely.

That is the stark message of a ground-breaking report published in May from the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, a collaboration of global health, development and human rights experts from around the world. It stresses that, while all individuals should have the right to make decisions about their bodies and lives, free of stigma, discrimination and coercion, not everyone does.  The result is drastic personal and economic costs.

 

Poor sexual and reproductive health has a negative impact on entire economies

 

“Gaps in sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide take an enormous toll on individuals, communities and economies,” says Dr Alex Ezeh, Commission Co-Chair and former Executive Director of the African Population and Health Research Centre. “We must not continue to tolerate this problem.”

“There must be no more delays: the world must take action now.”

To affect real and lasting change, therefore, the Commission has proposed a more holistic solution, urging national governments, international agencies, donors, civil society groups and others to commit to a new, bold agenda that would make sexual and reproductive health and rights available to all.

 

Universal SRHR must be achieved

 

First, the comprehensive definition of sexual health and reproductive rights in the Commission’s report should be adopted. The definition integrates the full range of peoples’ needs and services that are rarely recognised or addressed, including sexual wellbeing and personal autonomy.

Second, the package of essential sexual and reproductive health interventions laid out in the report should be made available to everyone who needs it. “This includes typical interventions such as contraceptive provision, HIV prevention and treatment, and maternal and newborn health services,” says Dr Susheela Singh, Commissioner and Vice President for International Research at the Guttmacher Institute. “But also, frequently-neglected components, such as safe and legal abortion care, infertility treatment and prevention, and detection and counselling for gender-based violence.”

Third, more attention should be given to vulnerable and marginalised populations. These communities, such as adolescents, LGBTQI individuals, displaced people and refugees, sex workers and people who use drugs, face greater obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health services, such as adolescents, LGBTQI individuals, displaced people and refugees, sex workers and people who use drugs, face greater obstacles in accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

 

Spending just $8.52 per person a year would have a large impact

 

What's more, these recommendations are financially achievable. For instance, for low- and middle-income countries, the Commission notes that the average annual cost per person for women’s contraceptive, abortion, and maternal and newborn healthcare would be just $8.52.

“There must be no more delays: the world must take action now,” says Dr Cynthia Summers, Chair of the Commission’s Advisory Group and Chief Operating Officer at the Guttmacher Institute. “We have the means and the knowledge to achieve universal sexual and reproductive health and rights. Meaningful progress is possible, it is affordable — and it is vital.”