When it comes to women being empowered to seek reproductive health care, sub-Saharan Africa has a long way to go. A tragic example is that 1 out of every 22 women dies from maternal causes each year, compared with 1 in 120 in Asia, 1 in 290 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 1 in 7300 in the developed countries.
Low rate of family planning
The problem is the low use of family planning in the region. This leads to many unintended births and contributes to this region's high level of maternal deaths.
The use of modern contraception is low. Only 17 per cent of married women of reproductive age use a modern contraceptive, even though a far higher proportion than this want to avoid becoming pregnant soon or ever.
And no less than 39 per cent of pregnancies are unintended (2008 figures). In Central and Western Africa, less than 10 per cent of women use any modern contraceptive method. This means they can't choose when they have children, the spacing between children, or how many children they have.
Why does this matter?
The younger a woman is when she has her first child, the more likely she is to experience complications or worse, death. The quicker she has children in succession, the less likely her body is to recover to a strong and healthy state. The more children she has, the less likely she and her parter are to be able to provide for their needs. This leads to a downward spiral of ill health and poverty.
Strides made in the fight against HIV and AIDS
The campaign to lower the HIV prevalence rate among adults aged 15 to 49 has been moderately successful in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet today, more than 1 in 20 in this age group is HIV-positive – the worst rate across the globe. In the past decade more and more women have been infected rather than men, in a trend of increasing feminisation of HIV and AIDS.
Challenges faced by young people
The youth and adolescents face similar challenges in all countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They experience a high level of open unemployment, drug and substance abuse, and reproductive health-related problems such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and AIDS, early marriage, early pregnancy, birth complications and unsafe abortions.