Why invest in reproductive health

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(File photo) One in seven girls in the Asia-Pacific region has given birth before the age of 18 — and she is most likely ill-prepared

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Sex before marriage has become more common among youth in the Asia-Pacific region, according to a recent report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

While that in itself is not a risk factor for poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH), the UNFPA said most young people are ill-prepared for premarital sex, meaning they have inadequate knowledge and poor access to health services, which increase their risk to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies.

One in seven girls in the region has given birth before their 18th birthday. More than 60 percent of these pregnancies are unintended, which can lead to unsafe abortion.

Early sexual debut, sex with multiple partners and sex under the influence of alcohol have also been reported in various countries, with 10 percent of young males and 20 percent of young females having had STI or its symptoms in the past year.

Related: DOH data show HIV cases up in 2015

The region was also slow to reduce maternal deaths, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Only five out of 31 countries where data are available have reached the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing the maternal mortality rate to three quarters: Bhutan, Iran, Maldives, Nepal and Vietnam.

For its part, the Philippines has decreased maternal deaths from 152 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 114 in 2015, based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN agencies. However, the country still fell short of the MDG target of 52 deaths per 100,000 live births.

While the UN in a 2013 report celebrated significant gains for the Asia-Pacific region in increasing women’s access to SRH services, including the use of modern contraceptives, it underscored the need for better SRH services for young people.

It said the main challenge for SRH policies and programs in the region today is to reach the underserved populations, including women residing in remote areas, adolescents, and youth.

To address the current SRH situation in the Asia-Pacific region especially among women, experts from the UNFPA, WHO and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) held a panel discussion on Friday (March 4), titled “A World She Deserves: Choice, Human Rights and Reproductive Health.”

Related: Rising number of teenage pregnancies alarms officials

The importance of investing on SRH

One of the major culprits behind poor access to health services is the very high out-of-pocket health expenditure across the region.

For instance in the Philippines, each individual shelled out P5,360 for their health needs in 2013, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

All in all, private out-of-pocket accounted for more than half or P296.5 billion of health expenditure in 2013, while the government shared only a scant P99.7 billion.

When people have to spend a lot for medication or hospitalization, they tend to delay or deter from accessing health services.

Thus, the UN said investing in SRH will save lives and contribute to universal health coverage.

For instance, the Philippines' still high maternal mortality rate could be substantially reduced if all mothers regardless of age had access to high quality antenatal care and skilled birth attendants, the UN explained.