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As the pill turns 50, 200 million more women still need it

Fifty years ago next week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill for use.  It has been credited with revolutionising the world, giving women the freedom to make choices about their own bodies and lives. Its arrival helped millions of women and most women in the world’s wealthy countries take it for granted.  Yet in 2010, 200 million women in the developing world still need or want contraception but don’t have access to it. The difference the pill could still make in developing countries is vast, giving women who have little power to make choices about their lives the means to limit their families that they can control themselves. 

It's an issue some of the world's most powerful and prominent women, including Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton on the will be talking about at a June conference set up by Women Deliver, an organisation that works to cut maternal deaths and widen access to reproductive healthcare. “In 2010 the importance of women's health is more pressing than ever,” said Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver. “When a woman is able to manage her fertility.., she told the Guardian newspaper, “…she is better able to manage her life and to realize her full potential as a human being. This has tremendous positive implications for her family, her community, and her country, and is a solid cost-effective solution to maternal deaths worldwide. The advent of the birth control pill in the US sparked a revolution. We must support the continuation of the revolution for women worldwide, by ensuring affordable access to contraceptives for all individuals.”

Every year, more than half a million women die of complications during pregnancy or childbirth, according to figures from the World Health Organisation. Most of these deaths can be avoided simply by using the necessary medical interventions. The key obstacle is pregnant women's lack of access to care before, during and after childbirth. Giving contraception to women who want it could prevent more than 50 million unwanted pregnancies, Women Deliver calculates, saving 150,000 women's lives and 640,000 newborns.

Women Deliver works globally to further Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to improve maternal health and cut maternal deaths by 75% by 2015. The organisation’s message is that maternal health is both a human right and a practical necessity for sustainable development. So far progress in reducing mortality in developing countries has been too slow to achieve the target.

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