Open Access Research article

Accelerators/decelerators of achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health services: a case study of Iranian health system

Nahid Akbari1, Ali Ramezankhani23* and Mehrnoosh Pazargadi23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, Nursing and Midwifery School, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran

2 Department of Public Health, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran

3 Department of Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Science, Tehran, Iran

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:241  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-241

Published: 1 July 2013



At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, the global community agreed to the goal of achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights by 2015. This research explores the accelerators and decelerators of achieving universal access to the sexual and reproductive health targets and accordingly makes some suggestions.


We have critically reviewed the latest national reports and extracted the background data on each SRH indicator. The key stakeholders, both national and international, were visited and interviewed at two sites. A total of 55 in-depth interviews were conducted with religious leaders, policy-makers, senior managers, senior academics, and health care managers. Six focus-group discussions were also held among health care providers. The study was qualitative in nature.


Obstacles on the road to achieving universal access to SRH can be viewed from two perspectives. One gap exists between current achievements and the targets. The other gap arises due to age, marital status, and residency status. The most recently observed trends in the indicators of the universal access to SRH shows that the achievements in the “unmet need for family planning” have been poor. Unmet need for family planning could directly be translated to unwanted pregnancies and unwanted childbirths; the former calls for sexual education to underserved people, including adolescents; and the latter calls for access to safe abortion. Local religious leaders have not actively attended international goal-setting programs. Therefore, they usually do not presume a positive attitude towards these goals. Such negative attitudes seem to be the most important factors hindering the progress towards universal access to SRH. Lack of international donors to fund for SRH programs is also another barrier. In national levels both state and the society are interactively playing their roles. We have used a cascade model for presenting the barriers at the state levels from the strategic planning to implementation. Social factors are to be considered as a background for other factors at all stages.


Accelerating universal access to SRH requires adequate funding, firm political commitment, creative programming, and the involvement of diverse actors, including faith-based, civil society, and private sector partners.

Iran; Health system; Sexual and reproductive health; Universal access; Millennium development goal