Induced abortion is a common reproductive experience, with more than 73 million abortions occurring each year globally. Worldwide, the annual abortion incidence decreased in the 1990s and the early decades of the 21st century, but this decline has been driven by high-resource settings, whereas abortion rates in low- and middle-resource countries have remained stable. Induced abortion is a very safe procedure when performed according to World Health Organization guidelines; however, legal restrictions, stigma, cost, lack of resources, and poor health system accountability limit the availability, accessibility, and use of quality abortion care services. Even as women’s use of safer self-managed medication abortion options becomes more common in some parts of the world, 45% of all abortions annually are unsafe, nearly all of which occur in low- and middle-resource settings, where unsafe abortion remains a primary cause of maternal death. Beyond country-level legal and health care system factors, significant disparities exist in women’s reliance on unsafe abortion. Even among women who receive a safe abortion, quality of care is often poor. Yet abortion’s precarious status as a health care service and its clandestine practice have precluded a systematic focus on quality monitoring and evaluation of service inputs. Improving abortion and postabortion care quality is essential to meeting this reproductive health need, as are efforts to prevent abortion-related mortality and morbidity more broadly. This requires a three-tier approach: primary prevention to reduce unintended pregnancy, secondary prevention to make abortion procedures safer, and tertiary prevention to reduce the negative sequelae of unsafe abortion procedures. Strategies include two complementary approaches: vulnerability reduction and harm reduction, the first focusing on the root causes of unsafe abortion by addressing the determinants of unwanted pregnancy and clandestine abortion, while the latter addresses the harmful consequences of clandestine abortion. Political commitments to extend service coverage of abortion and postabortion care need to be implemented through actions that build the public health system’s capacity. Beyond the model of receiving care exclusively in clinical settings, models of guided self-managed abortion are expanding the capacity of individuals to take evidence-based actions to terminate their pregnancies safely and without the threat of judgment. Research has strived to keep up with the changes in the abortion care landscape, but there remains a continuing need to improve methodologies to generate robust evidence to identify and address inequities in abortion care and its health consequences in a diversified landscape. Doing so will provide information for stakeholders to take actions toward a new era of health care reforms that repositions abortion as an integral component of sexual and reproductive health care.
Suzanne O. Bell, Mridula Shankar, and Caroline Moreau
The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which has guided programming on sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for 25 years, reinforced that governments have a role to play in addressing population issues but in ways that respect human rights and address social and gender inequities. The shift at ICPD was partly in response to excesses that had occurred in some family planning programs, resulting in human rights abuses. The 2012 London Summit on Family Planning refocused attention on family planning as a crucial component of SRHR and, in part due to significant pushback on the announcement of a goal of reaching an additional 120 million women and girls with contraception by 2020 in the world’s poorest countries, ignited work to ensure that programming to achieve this ambitious goal would be grounded in respecting, protecting, and fulfilling human rights. This attention to human rights has been maintained in Family Planning 2030 (FP2030), the follow on to Family Planning 2020 (FP2020). While challenges remain, particularly in light of pushback on reproductive rights, widespread work over the past decade to identify human rights principles and standards related to family planning, integrate them into programming, strengthen accountability, and incorporate rights into monitoring and evaluation has improved family planning programs.
Justin C. Konje and Oladipo A. Ladipo
Central to the survival of any species is the ability to procreate. In most cases, procreation is sexual, involving a process that ensures appropriate and timed contact between the male and female gametes. Successful human reproduction is premised on sexual intercourse occurring at a time when there is a receptive endometrium as well as an ovum ready for fertilization by spermatozoa. This time window of the menstrual cycle known as the fertile or fecund window is poorly defined and highly variable from one individual to another. Furthermore, while spermatogenesis is a continuous process, the impact of too frequent intercourse (defined as that occurring more than every 2 to 3 days) on fertilization has often been thought to be associated with a decreased fertilization potential of spermatozoa. Current evidence challenges previously held views on the fertile window and how it is determined, the timing of intercourse and how it is related to conception and miscarriages, the length of the luteal phase, and the precise time period during which the chances of fertilization are highest in any given menstrual cycle. The ability of spermatozoa to survive in the female genital tract for 5 days means fertilization can occur up to 5 days from sexual intercourse. During each menstrual cycle, there is a window of 5 to 6 days for fertilization to occur, and this period is defined not by the length of the cycle but by the timing of ovulation, with the chances of fertilization highest with intercourse occurring 1 to 2 days before ovulation.
Qianling Zhou, Chu-Yao Jin, and Hai-Jun Wang
Databases of PubMed, Scopus, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) were used to search relevant articles on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in China published from 2005 to the present (2021), based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Operational Framework on Sexual Health and Its Linkages to Reproductive Health. The following results were found. (a) SRH education and information among the Chinese were insufficient, in particular regarding contraception, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Adolescents, migrants, and the rural population had insufficient knowledge of SRH. (b) Fertility care services were mainly available in large cities, in urban areas, and for married couples. Services targeted for rural-to-urban migrants, rural residents, and the disabled and elderly are needed. (c) A total of 22.4% of youths aged 15–24 had premarital sexual intercourse, and the age of first sexual intercourse was decreasing. Risky sexual behaviors included multiple partners, casual and commercial sex, and having sex after drinking alcohol. (d) The contraceptive practice rate of women aged 15–49 in China was higher than the world’s corresponding figure. However, contraceptive use among young people was low (only 32.3% among unmarried women). (e) Unmarried pregnancy induced by low contraceptive practice is a critical issue in China. (f) Induced abortion was the major consequence of unmarried pregnancy. The rate of induced abortion among the general population in 2016 was 28.13‰, and the rate among unmarried women was increasing annually. (g) There were 958,000 HIV-infected cases in China as of October 2019. Sexual transmission was the major transmission route of HIV-AIDS. More men than women were infected. Men having sex with men comprised the high-risk group of sexual transmission of HIV-AIDS. (h) Gender-based violence including intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence, sexual coercion, and child sexual abuse (CSA) might be underreported in China, since many victims were afraid to seek help as well as due to limited services. Legal and regulatory measures should therefore be taken to prevent and reduce gender-based violence. For future perspectives of SRH in China, it is important to pay attention to SRH education and services. An up-to-date national survey on SRH is needed to reflect the current situation and to capture changes over the past decade. Most of the current research has been conducted among adolescents, and more studies are needed among other groups, such as the disabled, the elderly, and homosexual populations.
Yuelong Ji, Ramkripa Raghavan, and Xiaobin Wang
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication and by the presence of restrictive, repetitive behavior. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is another common lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by three major presentations: predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, predominantly inattentive, and combined. Although ASD and ADHD are different clinical diagnoses, they share various common characteristics, including male dominance, early childhood onset, links to prenatal and perinatal factors, common comorbidity for each other, and, often, persistence into adulthood. They also have both unique and shared risk factors, which originate in early life and have lifelong implications on the affected individuals and families and society. While genetic factors contribute to ASD and ADHD risk, the environmental contribution to ASD and ADHD has been recognized as having potentially equal importance, which raises the hope for early prevention and intervention. Maternal folate levels, maternal metabolic syndrome, and metabolic biomarkers have been associated with the risk of childhood ASD; while maternal high-density lipoprotein, maternal psychosocial stress, and in utero exposure to opioids have been associated with the risk of childhood ADHD. As for shared factors, male sex, preterm birth, placental pathology, and early life exposure to acetaminophen have been associated with both ASD and ADHD. The high rate of comorbidity of ASD and ADHD and their many shared early life risk factors suggest that early identification and intervention of common early life risk factors may be cost-effective to lower the risk of both conditions. Efforts to improve maternal preconception, prenatal, and perinatal health will not only help reduce adverse reproductive and birth outcomes but will also help mitigate the risk of ASD and ADHD associated with those adverse early life events.
Sarka Lisonkova and K. S. Joseph
Fetal death refers to the death of a post-embryonic product of conception while in utero or during childbirth, and it is one of the most distressing events faced by women and families. Birth following spontaneous fetal death is termed “miscarriage” if it occurs early in gestation, and “stillbirth,” if it occurs beyond the point of viability. There are substantial between-country differences in the criteria used for reporting stillbirths and these differences compromise international comparisons of stillbirth rates. In high-income countries, a majority of fetal deaths occur due to genetic causes, fetal infection, or other pregnancy complications. Congenital anomalies, placental insufficiency, and/or intrauterine growth restriction are frequent antecedents of fetal death. Maternal risk factors include advanced maternal age, high body mass index, smoking and substance use during pregnancy, prior stillbirth, chronic morbidity, and multifetal pregnancy. Disparities in education and socioeconomic status and other factors influencing maternal health also contribute to elevated rates of stillbirth among vulnerable women.
Usha Ram and Faujdar Ram
Globally, countries have followed demographic transition theory and transitioned from high levels of fertility and mortality to lower levels. These changes have resulted in the improved health and well-being of people in the form of extended longevity and considerable improvements in survival at all ages, specifically among children and through lower fertility, which empowers women. India, the second most populous country after China, covers 2.4% of the global surface area and holds 18% of the world’s population. The United Nations 2019 medium variant population estimates revealed that India would surpass China in the year 2030 and would maintain the first rank after 2030. The population of India would peak at 1.65 billion in 2061 and would begin to decline thereafter and reach 1.44 billion in the year 2100. Thus, India’s experience will pose significant challenges for the global community, which has expressed its concern about India’s rising population size and persistent higher fertility and mortality levels. India is a country of wide socioeconomic and demographic diversity across its states. The four large states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan accounted for 37% of the country’s total population in 2011 and continue to exhibit above replacement fertility (that is, the total fertility rate, TFR, of greater than 2.1 children per woman) and higher mortality levels and thus have great potential for future population growth. For example, nationally, the life expectancy at birth in India is below 70 years (lagging by more than 3 years when compared to the world average), but the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan have an average life expectancy of around 65–66 years. The spatial distribution of India’s population would have a more significant influence on its future political and economic scenario. The population growth rate in Kerala may turn negative around 2036, in Andhra Pradesh (including the newly created state of Telangana) around 2041, and in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu around 2046. Conversely, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan would have 764 million people in 2061 (45% of the national total) by the time India’s population reaches around 1.65 billion. Nationally, the total fertility rate declined from about 6.5 in early 1960 to 2.3 children per woman in 2016, a result of the massive efforts to improve comprehensive maternal and child health programs and nationwide implementation of the national health mission with a greater focus on social determinants of health. However, childhood mortality rates continue to be unacceptably high in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh (for every 1,000 live births, 43 to 55 children die in these states before celebrating their 5th birthday). Intertwined programmatic interventions that focus on female education and child survival are essential to yield desired fertility and mortality in several states that have experienced higher levels. These changes would be crucial for India to stabilize its population before reaching 1.65 billion. India’s demographic journey through the path of the classical demographic transition suggests that India is very close to achieving replacement fertility.
Marie Thoma, Jasmine Fledderjohann, Carie Cox, and Rudolph Kantum Adageba
Infertility remains a neglected area in sexual and reproductive health, yet its consequences are staggering. Infertility is estimated to impact about 10–25% (estimates range from 48 to 180 million) of couples of reproductive age worldwide. It is associated with adverse physical and mental health outcomes, financial distress, severe social stigma, increased risk of domestic abuse, and marital instability. Although men and women are equally likely to be infertile, women often bear the societal burden of infertility, particularly in societies where a woman’s identity and social value are closely tied to her ability to bear children. Despite these consequences, disparities in access to infertility treatment between low- and high-income populations persist given the high cost and limited geographic availability of diagnostic services and assisted reproductive technologies. In addition, a considerable proportion of infertility is a result of preventable factors, such as smoking, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy-related infection or unsafe abortion, and environmental contaminants. Accordingly, programs that address the equitable prevention and treatment of infertility are not only in keeping with a reproductive rights perspective but can also improve public health. However, progress on infertility as a global concern in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights is stymied by challenges in understanding the global epidemiology of infertility, including its causes and determinants, barriers to accessing quality fertility care, and a lack of political will and attention to this issue. The tracking and measurement of infertility are highly complex, resulting in considerable ambiguity about its prevalence and stratification in reproduction globally. A renewed global focus on infertility epidemiology, risk factors, and access to and receipt of quality of care will support individuals in trying to reach their desired number and spacing of children and improve overall health and well-being.
Tim Shand and Arik V. Marcell
Engaging men in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) across the life span is necessary for meeting men’s own SRH needs, including: prevention of STIs, HIV, unintended pregnancy, and reproductive system cancers; prevention and management of infertility and male sexual dysfunction; and promotion of men’s sexual health and broader well-being. Engaging men is also important given their relationship to others, particularly their partners and families, enabling men to: equitably support contraceptive use and family planning and to share responsibilities for healthy sexuality and reproduction; improve maternal, newborn, and child health; prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; and advocate for sexual and reproductive rights for all. Engaging men is also critical to achieving gender equality and challenging inequitable power dynamics and harmful gender norms that can undermine women’s SRH outcomes, rights, and autonomy and that can discourage help- and health-seeking behaviors among men. Evidence shows that engaging men in SRH can effectively improve health and equality outcomes, particularly for women and children. Approaches to involving men are most effective when they take a gender transformative approach, work at the personal, social, structural, and cultural levels, address specific life stages, and reflect a broad approach to sexuality, masculinities, and gender. While there has been growth in the field of men’s engagement since 2010, it has primarily focused on men’s role as supportive to their partners’ SRH. There remains a gap in evidence and practice around better engaging men as SRH clients and service users in their own right, including providing high-quality and accessible male-friendly services. A greater focus is required within global and national policy, research, programs, and services to scale up, institutionalize, and standardize approaches to engaging men in SRH.
Elisabeth Johnson, Abdul Subor Momand, and Hendree E. Jones
Women in all countries use substances, and for some women, such use continues during pregnancy. When substance use impairs life functioning and becomes a use disorder, regardless of the type of substance, effective treatments are available (e.g., medication to treat opioid and alcohol use disorders and behavioral approaches to treat tobacco, stimulant, and other substances). In two very different cultural contexts, the United States and Afghanistan, pregnant women face common issues when using substances and seeking and/or receiving help for problem substance use. In both countries, and around the world, many women who have substance use disorders during and after pregnancy face tremendous stigma and discrimination. Yet, similarly, in both the United States and Afghanistan, when women receive integrated medical and behavioral health care for their substance use disorder, they and their children have more optimized opportunities for healthy life outcomes.