Sexual and reproductive health

Sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is a very personal subject, so people may have trouble finding or asking for accurate information about it. This may also help explain why these issues are still not addressed openly, and services are inadequate, fragmented and unfriendly in some countries in the European Region. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth, unsafe abortions, reproductive tract infections, sexual violence and women dying from avoidable cancer are just a few of the problems in this area. WHO/Europe assists countries to evaluate their situations and to choose the optimal way to improve them.

Definition

People are sexual beings all their lives. The purposes of sexual health care should be the enhancement of life and personal relationships, and not merely counselling and care related to procreation or sexually transmitted infections. Reproductive health (RH) implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to have children and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.

Men and women should have access to the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice, and to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth, and provide couples with the best chance of having healthy infants.

Problems

There has been good progress but there are still big differences between and within countries in the Region. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) multicentre study of people living with HIV (PLHIV) carried out in 13 European Union countries in 2012, indicated that the proportion of women with unmet need for family planning was much higher in PLHIV than in the general population (28% and 10%, respectively). In 2016, an action plan for the health sector to respond to HIV in the European Region stress that new HIV infections have increased with 75% in the European Region since 2005, even though they are decreasing globally. Thus, focusing on PLHIV is still an important target group.

Some progress has been made within the European Region regarding usage of modern contraceptive methods, where the contraceptive prevalence rate has increased from 55.6% in 2000 to 61.2% in 2015. However, in this day and age, many people still lack information on, for example, sexuality, family planning, pregnancy and childbirth, sexually transmitted infections, infertility, cervical cancer prevention, and menopause.

In response, national and regional health policies and programs increasingly give explicit attention to SRH.