Originally posted on the Huffington Post

On World Population Day, we can expect statements from people all along the political spectrum.

With our population poised to top 7 billion this year, many will say the world is already too big, and getting bigger. Sadly, these voices rarely include a mention of the individuals–women, men and young people–who make up this world and will help shape its future with the choices they make.

Others will say world population doesn’t matter, and that addressing it won’t help solve the larger issues of poverty and inequality that have a negative impact on people’s lives.

At Population Action International (PAI), we are celebrating World Population Day, as the world’s population is beautiful, diverse and talented. Our new Annual Report shows photos and stories of the faces and lives that make up this number.

These stories are also reminders of the challenge that World Population Day poses. In too many lives, aspirations go unrealized because of the chronic unavailability and inaccessibility of reproductive and maternal health supplies. We know that despite achievements in securing access to supplies, more than 215 million women in developing countries still lack access to modern methods of family planning, and countless mothers die unnecessarily in childbirth.

This message was loud and clear at Access for All, the recent global conference of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It also comes through when you listen to Mary (in the clip below), a midwife in Uganda, talk about the embarrassment and hardship women in her community face when they can’t get the supplies they need.

Some supplies are items many of us buy at our local CVS or Rite Aid. They’re condoms to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections. They’re latex gloves and soap to help ensure a safe delivery. Others are inexpensive medications, such as magnesium sulfate and oxytocin, that can save a woman’s life if childbirth becomes difficult.

This World Population Day, rather than get sidelined in stale debates about our numbers, PAI wants to shine the spotlight on our potential. There are things each of us can do to improve access to reproductive and maternal health supplies, and to ensure all women get the affordable, lifesaving supplies we in the developed world often take for granted.

For one, we can listen to women and their communities about what they need, and make sure their voices are heard by policymakers. We can support service providers — such as doctors, nurses, midwives — to be powerful advocates for the supplies they need to do their jobs. And finally, we can track and monitor supplies over the long-term and hold governments and policymakers accountable.

Working together, we can create better, healthier lives for each of our soon-to-be 7 billion.


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