Reproductive tract infections (RTIs) are common diseases with profound social and health consequences for Third World women, men and children. As one of the world’s most neglected health problems, RTIs are related in important ways to girls’ and women’s basic sexual and reproductive health and to the acceptability of family planning programs. Yet, in allocating scarce human and financial health care resources to developing countries, policy makers, program planners, and international donor agencies have generally given low priority to RTIs. In part this is because of the mistaken belief that RTIs are not fatal, that they are too expensive and too complicated to treat, and that in most developing countries they affect only small and specialized segments of sexually active adults such as prostitutes. Each of these assumptions, however, can be challenged by a growing body of evidence.

Published in 1991, this paper summarizes the published data on RTIs among women in developing countries in order to raise questions and encourage discussion about alternative approaches to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of common RTIs.