From the executive director
World leaders now recognize that improving reproductive health, advancing gender equality and integrating population analysis into development planning can mean the difference between achieving—or missing—the Millennium Development Goals.
In 2008, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, continued to support countries in carrying forward the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development. This agenda contributes substantially to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those that aim to end extreme poverty, promote gender equality, improve maternal health, reduce child mortality and combat HIV/AIDS.
By supporting countries to expand sexual and reproductive health services, UNFPA contributed to progress in achieving Millennium Development Goal 5 to improve maternal health. In 2008, UNFPA joined forces with UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the World Bank to accelerate action to reduce maternal deaths in 60 of the most-affected countries. To catalyse funding, UNFPA initiated a $500 million Maternal Health Trust Fund, which is already helping improve the health of mothers and newborns in 11 countries. UNFPA stands by its belief that no woman should die giving life.
In 2008, the Campaign to End Fistula reached an important milestone when it announced that it had quadrupled in size. The Campaign now reaches more than 45 countries in Africa, Asia and the Arab States, compared to 12 countries when the Campaign was launched in 2003. Since it began, the Campaign has helped more than 12,000 women receive fistula treatment, and more than 20 countries have integrated fistula programmes into their national strategies, policies and plans.
To stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly among women and youth, UNFPA continued to support countries to more fully integrate sexual and reproductive health and HIV prevention. UNFPA also moved forward to ensure reproductive health commodity security: 80 countries now have national budget lines for contraceptives and other reproductive health supplies.
To support countries in the 2010 census round, UNFPA provided technical and financial assistance. Support was provided to strengthen national capacity for collecting, analysing and using data to guide poverty-reduction programmes and measure progress in meeting internationally agreed development goals.
In 2008, UNFPA responded to humanitarian crises in 50 countries by providing medical supplies and equipment, and technical assistance to governments and partners to help vulnerable women, men and youth, many of whom were internally displaced or refugees.
As in previous years, most of UNFPA's work in 2008 benefited from our indispensible partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. I firmly believe that partnerships are the only way forward if our ideals of human rights are to become living realities for every man and woman, young and old.
I have worked with committed colleagues in UNFPA to institutionalize a culturally sensitive approach, a "cultural lens," to our humanitarian and development work. We have done so based on the wisdom we have gained over the years—that sustainable social change must be deeply rooted. At the heart of our work lies a focus on human rights and human dignity. We believe that all individuals have inherent worth and a right to reach their full potential.
Culture was the focus of The State of the World Population report in 2008. One of the main messages is that change cannot be imposed from the outside; to be lasting, change must come from within. Our experience shows that cultural knowledge and awareness and working closely with local agents of change serve to promote and protect human rights, including the rights of women.
In 2008, UNFPA convened the first Global Forum of Faith-Based Organizations, which brought together more than 160 religious leaders and representatives of faith-based organizations, culminating in the launch of an Interfaith Network on Population and Development. Members of the Network agreed to work together on issues such as HIV/AIDS, maternal health and ending discrimination and violence against women.
As part of United Nations reform, UNFPA continued to improve accountability, oversight and management. To be closer to those we serve, we relocated regional offices from our New York headquarters to the respective regions. The move will improve connections with countries and foster more rapid response to their needs and also foster better monitoring and evaluation. A top priority is strengthening the capacity of national and regional institutions as networks of knowledge and expertise to support countries in carrying the International Conference on Population and Development agenda forward.
UNFPA takes pride in the progress we made in 2008. Looking forward, we will continue to support countries in maintaining and advancing development gains and protecting the well-being of the most vulnerable, especially women and children, as the financial crisis unwinds and concerted steps are taken towards recovery.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid