Primary care, the bedrock of universal health care, provides most of the services for sexual and reproductive health, along with infant vaccination and cancer screening. Yet it is often an afterthought when we discuss the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

Expanding access to primary care is the only way we can realize the vision of Cairo and ensure sexual and reproductive health "for everyone, everywhere," World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the European Development Days 2019 conference in Brussels on 18 June.

Dr. Tedros explained that stigma, gender norms, lack of confidentiality and parental authorization are some of the barriers faced by women and girls, particularly the poor the marginalized, in accessing sexual and reproductive health services in developing countries. Ending the unfinished business of the ICPD Programme of Action, he pointed out, can help lift many of these barriers.

"Sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, safe abortion, maternity care, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections must be guided by the needs of couples and individuals, not driven by demographic targets," Dr. Tedror said.

The ICPD Programme of Action has been a critical turning point in affirming that  human rights, gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment are crucial to effective population and development, the WHO chief added. What we need to accelerate its implementation, he noted, is political leadership.

"We cannot truly say we have achieved health for all unless women are able to exercise choice and control over their sexual and reproductive health," Dr. Tedros concluded.