(January 2006) Development experts increasingly see family planning and other reproductive health care as vital for improving well-being and achieving other social and development goals. The use of modern contraceptives, for example, helps couples avoid unintended pregnancies and protects both mothers’ and children’s health. Other reproductive health care helps women have healthy pregnancies and helps protect women and men against sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The linkages between reproductive health and development are particularly important in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where progress toward development goals is uneven.

Investing in reproductive health, however, rarely ranks high on the list of national priorities, which usually emphasize creating jobs and raising incomes. This lack of attention is counterproductive. Prioritizing women’s reproductive health at a national level would help accelerate progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—a global development framework adopted by the United Nations for improving people’s lives and combating poverty. 

Written by PRB Senior Policy Analyst Farzaneh Roudi-Fahimi and Lori Ashford, technical director for policy information at PRB, this policy brief examines how countries in the MENA region are progressing toward achieving the MDGs and highlights how these countries could benefit from greater attention to reproductive health. The region is moving in the right direction on most MDG indicators, but priority attention is needed to increase gender equality, expand quality health services, and address freshwater scarcity.