Reproductive health

Within the framework of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, reproductive health, or sexual health/hygiene, addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life. Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. One interpretation of this implies that men and women ought to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; also access to appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education programs to stress the importance of women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth could provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

Individuals do face inequalities in reproductive health services. Inequalities vary based on socioeconomic status, education level, age, ethnicity, religion, and resources available in their environment. It is possible for example, that low income individuals lack the resources for appropriate health services and the knowledge to know what is appropriate for maintaining reproductive health.

The WHO assessed in 2008 that “Reproductive and sexual ill-health accounts for 20% of the global burden of ill-health for women, and 14% for men.” Reproductive health is a part of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health deprive women of the right to make “crucial choices about their own bodies and futures”, affecting family welfare. Women bear and usually nurture children, so their reproductive health is inseparable from gender equality. Denial of such rights also worsens poverty.

Reproductive health should be looked at through a lifecycle approach as it affects both men and women from infancy to old age. According to UNFPA, reproductive health at any age profoundly affects health later in life. The lifecycle approach incorporates the challenges people face at different times in their lives such as family planning, services to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and early diagnosis and treatment of reproductive health illnesses. As such, services such as health and education systems need to be strengthened and availability of essential health supplies such as contraceptives and medicines must be supported.

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