The prestigious medical journal The Lancet has launched an ambitious international examination of the state of sexual and reproductive health and its findings draw a stark picture of the work that remains to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The Lancet’s six-part series on Sexual and Reproductive Health was underwritten by the Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation.

The series launched in November with a statistical overview of reproductive health worldwide that was coordinated by the World Health Organization,  and will continue in the coming weeks with a first-ever global survey of sexual behavior, and with studies of sexually transmitted diseases, abortion and family planning. 

“The series should help put reproductive health issues where they need to be: squarely on the agendas of governments and international health organizations,’’ said Nicole Gray, a Foundation program officer. “Many of the findings are dismaying, but facing the facts is a crucial step for the world community to make progress.”

The first Lancet article stated that disability and premature death stemming from sexual and reproductive problems are on the rise around the world, with more than a half million women a year dying in pregnancy and childbirth. It estimated that 80 million women have unintended or unwanted pregnancies annually, with 45 million ending in abortion, 19 million of them unsafe, leading to 68,000 deaths and millions of injuries and permanent disabilities. Yet between 1995 and 2003, donor support for family planning fell from $560 million to $460 million.

Parts of the Lancet series can be seen at the publication’s website.