We focus a lot of our efforts — rightfully — on access to basic healthcare, including things like birth control, sexual health education and HIV/AIDS prevention. But it’s essential to keep in mind that a good international women’s health policy also covers the very basics, like access to clean water, in tandem with these other things. And, as an Ethiopian study suggests, clean water may do more to benefit women’s reproductive health than we had imagined.
Just one major problem: In benefiting women’s health, it increases their fertility. Which is great, since an overall increase in a population’s fertility is generally a sign of good health. But since these women don’t have adequate access to family planning tools, it means they have far more children than they did before. Which, again, would be great if they were choosing to have these children, and if having them was indicative of better economic, social and health conditions. But it isn’t. And while the women are healthier, their children are starving — which is arguably better than dying of disease and infection from the tainted water, but not by much.
This boost in birth rate takes a toll on children’s health. The investigators found that kids were more likely to be malnourished, based on their height and weight, in villages with taps than in those without.
This could be simply because families are sharing their scarce food between more children. Or perhaps low birth-weight babies, who previously would not have survived the trauma of birth, are now surviving but not thriving.
Of course, in the aggregate, this is, at the very least, better than the previous situation. But it’s worth noting here that a good health policy for developing nations works on a variety of levels: It includes clean water, food, access to family planning services, adequate pre-natal and well-baby care, health education, immunizations and disease prevention, and on and on. It can’t be addressed on a single level. Imagine how much better this situation would be if these women had clean water and were able to control their own fertility so that they had as many children as they desired, not as many as fate offered? What would their lives look like if they could afford to feed all their kids, and got to watch them grow up into adulthood instead of watching them die of disease and infection before they had clean water, and then watching others waste away after the clean water taps were introduced? A good international policy would address this issue comprehensively instead of offering simplistic moralisms and short-term solutions. The Bush administration’s agenda of starving family planning clinics and disallowing these women access to basic reproductive health tools doesn’t help women, children or families.
Thanks to TangoMan for the link.
- Global Gag Rule: Denying Access to Women Worldwide by Jill October 26, 2005
- Life without family planning by tigtog July 19, 2007
- Bush Cuts Family Planning Funding by Jill February 15, 2006
- Educating is good, fixing the problem is better by Jill September 24, 2007
- Pro-choice Congresspeople take steps to prevent abortion; “pro-lifers” predictably opposed by Jill June 22, 2007