The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics

 revisiting the world's sacred traditions

June 16-30, 2007


More than Half of World Population Will Soon Live in Cities: UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, released its “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth” report worldwide on June 27. Several media outlets covered the key findings: by 2008, more than half the world’s population, or 3.3 billion people, will live in cities. The majority of urban growth is happening in small to medium-sized cities in the developing world, where most people already live in extreme poverty.

The report warned that without proper planning and policy change, this increase in urban population will strain already limited resources like water and health care and create more violence, disease and death. “The poor settle in the worst living space, on steep hillsides or riverbanks that will be flooded, where nobody else wants to live and speculators haven’t taken control of the land,” said author George Martin of UNFPA.

The report remained optimistic, stating that cities can use their growth to create significant economic development, and that they still represent the best hope of escaping extreme poverty. "If we want to capitalize on the potential of this urban migration, then we should change our mindset," said UNFPA head Thoraya Obaid. "Policies have to be changed and the proper investments and programmes have to be made…Slums, poverty and violence exist because urban growth has not been well managed." Read: The New York Times, Associated Press, The Guardian, BBC News, Reuters, The Daily Times, Manila Bulletin, The Guardian, The Daily Times, Daily News, Xinhua General News Service, Jamaica Gleaner, The Nation, Times of India, Yonhap News, AAP Newsfeed, The Toronto Star


Pregnancy and Childbirth Kill One Woman Every Minute: On June 27 and 28, Voice of America and Newsweek reported on the number-one killer of women around the world; childbirth. According to the World Health Organization, childbirth is the leading cause of death and disability for women worldwide. And for every childbearing death, 30 more women become injured or ill. “The situation is particularly tragic because solutions are simple and relatively inexpensive,” Newsweek wrote. Read: Newsweek , Voice of America

Advocates Raise Fistula Awareness: On June 17, the Washington Times reported that activists, documentary filmmakers and members of Congress have teamed up to raise awareness about obstetric fistula, a preventable, treatable injury from prolonged labor during childbirth. The filmmakers of “A Walk to Beautiful,” a film chronicling five African women living with fistula, joined UNFPA, Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) at a National Press Club event to promote awareness. Rep. Maloney highlighted a bill she has re-introduced that would provide UNFPA with $34 million to prevent and treat the condition. "Surely we can all agree that this devastating condition is worth everything we can do against it," she said. Read: Washington Times

New Vaccine 90 Percent Effective Against Cervical Cancer: On June 28, Agence France-Presse reported that a new cervical cancer vaccine, Ceravix, is 90 percent effective against Human Papilloma Virus types 16 and 18, which account for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women, according to UNFPA, with around 500,000 worldwide cases each year. If left untreated, cervical cancer is almost always fatal and death rates are expected to rise by 25 percent in the next ten years. Ceravix is currently being tested and has yet to go to market. Read: Agence France-Presse

Canada Denounces Mail Order Gender-Testing Kits: On June 21, the Canadian Press reported that The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada has publicly denounced the home use of mail-order fetal gender-testing kits. Many physicians and advocates believe these kits, which claim to determine a fetus’s sex at 5-6 weeks of pregnancy, can and are being used to abort fetuses based solely on gender. The group unveiled its position at a conference to discuss, among other female health concerns, the world’s alarmingly high maternal mortality of more than 500,000 deaths per year. Read: Canadian Press

Canadian Doctor Tackles Maternal Mortality in Uganda: On June 24, the Ottawa Citizen reported on Canadian Dr. Jean Chamberlain, who set up a master’s degree program in Public Health Leadership and is a founder of Save the Mothers. In her work in Uganda, Chamberlain has called on members of parliament to take action against maternal mortality. Sylvia Ssinabulya, a Ugandan member of parliament and star pupil in Chamberlain’s program, introduced legislation to increase access to contraception and emergency obstetrical services nationwide. "For the first time ever, we have truly committed to reducing the rates of maternal mortality in our country," said Ssinabulya. Read: Ottawa Citizen


House Approves Contraceptives in Foreign Aid Bill: On June 22, several media outlets reported on the battle between President Bush and the House of Representatives over family planning and foreign aid. The House approved a provision in its foreign aid bill that would provide contraceptives to organizations denied funding for providing or promoting abortion. “Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), sponsor of the amendment and chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on state and foreign operations, sought to reassure Republicans that the contraceptives provision does not shake the core antiabortion portion of the policy,” The Washington Post reported. “‘What I did was put in a very narrow provision that will reduce abortion, unintended pregnancy and reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS,’ Lowey said.” Read: Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Reuters

Against Church, Brazil Offers Free Emergency Contraception: On June 26, the Associated Press reported that the Brazilian government is expanding its newly liberalized family planning program to include distribution of the “morning-after pill,” despite opposition from the Vatican. Emergency contraception is part of the government’s plan to curb unwanted pregnancies and dangerous illegal abortions. An estimated 800,000 illegal abortions occur in Brazil each year, making abortion the fourth leading cause of death for Brazilian women. Prevention has become a government priority. Read: Associated Press

Abortion Up Four Percent in England, Wales: On June 20, The Guardian (London) reported that abortion is up four percent in England and Wales among women age 15-45. It is also occurring earlier in the gestation period, with 68 percent of abortions taking place at under 10 weeks of pregnancy. Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said women increasingly expected to be able to plan their families and cannot do so through contraception alone. "Becoming a parent is increasingly viewed as a significant social responsibility, and although abortion can be a difficult choice, we know that increasingly society is more understanding of the compelling reasons why a woman may need to end a pregnancy." Read: The Guardian

U.S. Lawmakers Want Condoms for Border Control: On June 22, Reuters reported that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is pushing legislation to provide free contraception to Mexico as a means of border control. "A slower rate of growth of Mexico's population would improve the economy of Mexico. It would also reduce the environmental pressure on Mexico's ecosystem. But a slower rate of growth would also reduce the long-term illegal immigration pressure on America's borders," he argued. The suggestion was narrowly approved in the House amid protests from Republicans who prefer abstinence-only sex education and family planning methods. Read: Reuters


Pending Moroccan Elections Make Women Uneasy: On June 18, Women’s Enews reported on impending elections in Morocco and their effect on women’s rights. In 2000, Morocco passed liberalizing reforms for women, but a change in parliament and nationwide Islamic revivalism worry women’s rights advocates. "Everyone says the Islamists will win," said Aicha Ech-Channa, founder of Feminine Solidarity, a Casablanca-based group that assists single mothers. "On behalf of democracy, they [the Islamists] may get power. But I'm scared they will withdraw women's rights." Read: Women’s Enews

Taliban Targets Women in Afghanistan: On June 20, the BBC News reported that despite significant advances in women’s equality in Afghanistan, the newly resurgent Taliban is now targeting women to stop a shift to Western values. Prominent women, members of parliament, teachers and activists are being threatened with violence and even death. Ms. Tooarpekay, an Afghan teacher and community and health worker, said government officials are insincere about simple demands of local people, unemployment is prevalent and there are few schools. "All this drives people into the arms of the Taliban. And the women become the worst sufferers again," she said. Read: BBC News

Egypt Bans Female Circumcision: On June 28, BBC News reported that Egypt has announced a countrywide ban on female circumcision following the recent death of a 12-year-old girl after the procedure. A partial ban has existed in Egypt for ten years, with exceptions, but an estimated 90 percent of women have endured the procedure. Egyptian first lady Susanne Mubarak and prominent religious leaders have come out against female circumcision to help increase public support and compliance with the ban. Read: BBC News


HIV Rates Same in War Zones: On June 28, Reuters reported that a new study by The Lancet medical journal contradicts a common belief that armed conflict raises HIV infection rates. In a seven-country study in Africa, Lancet found no evidence that HIV infection rates rose during conflict. Some advocates like Gopa Kumar Nair, Save the Children's HIV and AIDS adviser, said the data may not be accurate for a real-life situation. "Our experience from the field clearly shows that there is a huge link between vulnerability to HIV and conflict. We have seen community-based health systems breaking down," Read: Reuters

Marketing Condoms to Fight HIV/AIDS: On June 18, NPR’s Morning Edition reported on two international nonprofit organizations that use social marketing to sell condoms in developing nations. Both DKT International and Population Services International (PSI) sell low-cost health products such as condoms in developing nations to fight HIV. Using advertising campaigns that highlight local celebrities and music as well as cultural and historical references, both organizations sell condoms as opposed to distributing them freely. Sally Cole, Senior Vice President for PSI, “We sell things and not give them away. We think if you buy it, you're much more likely to use it.” Read: NPR- Morning Edition

Senate Passes AIDS Foreign Aid Bill: On June 28, the Associated Press reported that the Senate had approved is own foreign aid bill, lowering funds for economic and political reform, the State Department budget and foreign aid. It did, however, raise funding to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Read: Associated Press

HIV Rates Soar in Nepal: On June 20, Xinhua General News Service reported that according to new data managed by Family Planning Association Nepal, HIV infection rates have risen 100 percent among women and 200 percent among children in an alarmingly short period of time. Infection rates also rose among recipients of blood donations, organ transplants, intravenous drug users and clients of sex workers. Read: Xinhua General News Service

Laura Bush Tours Africa to Assess PEPFAR: On June 22 and 25, NPR and the Associated Press reported that First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna traveled to southern Africa for a four-nation tour to assess the President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR began with $15 billion in 2003 and President Bush recently asked Congress for $30 billion more in funding through 2011, PEPFAR is by far the largest monetary commitment that any nation has made to fight AIDS outside its own borders. Critics are asking Congress to remove PEPFAR restrictions that allot one third of funding for abstinence-only sex education, saying that more comprehensive prevention methods are needed to fight HIV. Read: NPR, Associated Press


Several media outlets published commentary about the newly released UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund report, “State of World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth.” Media nationwide reacted to the UNFPA recommendations on the policy changes needed to unleash the potential of widespread urban growth and fight poverty:

A Dallas Morning News editorial focused on escaping the world’s already overridden slums by connecting workers with the global economy in responsible and sustainable ways. The report states “Though cities concentrate poverty, they're also poor people's best hope of escaping it.” Dallas Morning News concluded “In a business sense, this is the equivalent of concentrating resources to get the most return on investment.” Read: Dallas Morning News,

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial discussed the opportunity for healthy, clean and prosperous cities if governments enact policies to ensure land for the poor, build sewers, invest in healthcare and more importantly, expand women’s rights. “But many cities, especially in Africa and Asia, have the chance to become healthier places as they grow. City life, with its greater educational and work opportunities for females, can promote population control.” Read: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

On June 29, a column by Jack Smith, of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, compared the misplaced priorities of the Bush administration with the UNFPA recommendations to fight widespread poverty. Smith examines what could happen if the U.S. spent more money waging peace than war. Only a fraction of the Iraq war budget could provide housing, fix roads, provide safe water, healthcare and family planning for many of the world’s poor. “It's [the UNFPA report] sobering. But it also sheds light on the many opportunities that we embattled earthlings have to make the planet a better place to live if we'll just start thinking and acting more rationally, compassionately, unselfishly and peacefully.” Read: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

On June 29, the Palm Beach Post published a column by Steve Gushee about the effects of population growth on the environment and the role religion plays. Gushee concludes that family planning is essential in combating overpopulation and all its associated problems although the Roman Catholic Church, most Muslim groups and many Protestants refuse to accept the use of contraceptives in family planning. Although the AIDS death rate is perversely checking population growth it has not lead to a change in contraceptive teachings by these religious groups. Evangelical President George Bush gives money to underdeveloped countries but denies money for family planning to these same countries. “The biblical world that once welcomed a growing population and invited development is long gone. No longer need we be obedient to the biblical imperative to populate the Earth. Now we need to save it from our too numerous selves.” Read: Palm Beach Post

On June 18, The New York Times published an editorial about the recent G-8 summit pledge of $60 billion to fight HIV and other diseases, saying the amount falls short of expectations. Activists say tens of billions of dollars are needed over the next five years for treatment, care and prevention of AIDS alone. “As Congress wrestles with the fiscal 2008 appropriations bills this year, it ought to provide the full $1.3 billion being sought by congressional health advocates as the American contribution to a global fund to combat the three diseases — not just $300 million as proposed by the administration or the $850 million approved by the House Appropriations Committee.” Read: The New York Times

The above summary is produced by the Communications Consortium Media Center, 401 Ninth Street, NW, Suite 450, Washington, DC 20004, 202.326.8700. Redistribution is encouraged with credit to CCMC.

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