Health matters

Pacific countries are generally making insufficient progress against their goals to improve maternal health (Millennium Development Goal 5). As a region Oceania ranks third worst behind Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. Women can die if they have too many pregnancies at a young age, have inadequate birth spacing or are unable to access skilled care. Family planning and access to skilled health workers are proven, highly cost-effective strategies for reducing maternal deaths.

All women have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so. However, there is an increasing unmet need for family planning information and services across the Pacific. Teenage fertility rates remain extremely high, especially in Kiribati, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. Unmet need for contraception adds to women’s expected caring responsibilities and ‘reproductive work’ and the ability for a woman to control her own fertility is fundamental to her ability to participate in society beyond the household level. Unmet need for family planning is also linked to high birth rates and therefore increases risk of maternal health complications.[1]

In the Pacific, where populations are often spread across remote and difficult to access islands, ensuring adequate and appropriate family planning commodities reach populations is a major challenge for governments and development partners. Agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund are working with governments to improve the supply of essential family planning commodities to help reduce unmet need for family planning. In addition, civil society agencies such as International Planned Parenthood Federation are working with governments to deliver essential sexual and reproductive health services to vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Ensuring access to midwives and skilled birth attendants is another crucial component for improving maternal health. Fiji School of Medicine are working to increase skilled health personnel, including midwives, across the Pacific.

Poor maternal health outcomes have been linked with violence against women and significantly affect women’s livelihoods. Over 60 per cent of Pacific women in four Pacific countries report physical and sexual abuse.

The 2012 World Development Report “Gender Equality and Development” argues that to reduce gender inequality, action is required to reduce excess deaths of girls and women by improving delivery of clean water and sanitation and increasing maternal health services .[2]

Improvements in health outcomes, alongside improvement in education for women and girls will also be crucial for women to participate more fully in development.


1. UNFPA (2012). Good Practices in Essential Supplies for Family Planning and Maternal Health, United Nations Population Fund, New York.

2. World Bank (2012). World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development, World Bank, Washington D.C., pp. xxii-xxiii.