Today as we celebrate World Population Day, we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the historic International Conference on Population and Development. Ten years ago, 179 governments promised to improve the quality of life for women and families with access to health care, education, a clean environment and reproductive rights.
Ten years later, we can say that significant progress has been achieved. A girl born today in the developing world faces better prospects than a girl who was born ten years ago. School enrolment rates are increasing and life expectancy is on the rise. More and more women and couples are able to choose the number and spacing of their children, and many countries are taking steps to confront HIV/AIDS.
But much more needs to be done. Nothing demonstrates the urgent need for greater action than the issue of safe motherhood. Today, each and every minute a mother goes missing. She perishes in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy. And the tragedy is compounded by the fact that nearly all of these deaths are preventable.
This tragedy adds up to 529,000 deaths every year, leaving a devastating void in families, communities, entire regions. Imagine life without your mother’s countless acts of love and support. The emotional, social and economic consequences are catastrophic. They affect every one of us.
Safe motherhood also means protecting women from violence and abuse and from HIV/AIDS. We must ensure that all women and adolescent girls have the knowledge and means to prevent HIV infection, and that men are supportive partners. We must reduce the vulnerability of women and girls by increasing respect for their human rights and confronting gender discrimination and violence. And we must do more to get life saving drugs to people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Not only do women deserve treatment in their own right, they also need it to prevent HIV transmission to their children. HIV prevention and treatment services should be available in all health care settings, especially in places where medical services are limited.
There is a solution. Ten years ago, 179 governments committed to it when they signed the ICPD Programme of Action. The ICPD prescribes the steps that will not only save millions of women’s lives but empower individuals to achieve a better future. Universal access to education and sexual and reproductive health services are the primary goals. These goals complement and reinforce those set by world leaders at the Millennium Summit to secure a more equitable and sustainable world in the 21st century.