Press Conference: First $1 Million of 34 Million Friends Campaign

1 May 2003
Author: UNFPA

Good morning. Thank you, Peter, for the kind introduction, and thank you, Lois and Jane, for your hard work and dedication in starting the 34 Million Friends Campaign and for keeping it going strong. I would also like to thank Tim Wirth, the President of the United Nations Foundation, for coming today and for your continuing support. I understand you have an important announcement to make and we certainly look forward to that.

I am so happy to be here today with all of you to celebrate this $1 million milestone.

It is often said that each of us, as individuals, can make a difference in this world and you, Lois and Jane, are living examples of that. Women like you are an inspiration to women, and men, everywhere.

Instead of feeling powerless when the United States Administration withdrew funding from UNFPA last year, you became powerful. And your power and vision have caught on. The outpouring of support from ordinary American citizens for UNFPA and the work we do has been tremendous. This campaign highlights the power of individuals to make a difference. It also shows that the American people support the right of all women to have quality health care and to be able to plan their families.

All in all, over 100,000 Americans have voiced their support for international family planning and the work of UNFPA through the 34 Million Friends Campaign.

Every day, some 200 letters arrive. And while the monetary contributions are most welcome, and will be put to good use, just as important are the messages of support. I would like to read to you three of the letters that have arrived.

One woman wrote: “Thank you Jane Roberts and Lois Abraham for starting such a wonderful protest. As a mother of three daughters, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of three, I am sending a dollar for each of us to help UNFPA continue its help to save the lives of poor women, infants and children throughout the world.”

Many of the letters come from groups of friends. One group wrote: “We are three women who among us have spent almost 75 years living in Kenya and understand the need for UNFPA. The need for your work is enormous, the need to increase it even greater. Anyone with an ounce of compassion or wisdom could not allow part of our earth to suffer so needlessly. Thank you for what you do.”

Another woman wrote simply: “Please keep women in poor countries a PRIORITY. They matter.”

The support that is coming from the 34 Million Friends Campaign is important to all of us at UNFPA, and it is even more important to the women around the world who will benefit from it.

UNFPA intends to use the first million dollars from the Campaign to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women, to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, to equip hospitals with essential supplies, to support adolescents and youth so they can stay healthy and strong, and to prevent and treat obstetric fistula.

In the newly independent nation of Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, the money will be used to equip the only two hospitals in the country that provide emergency obstetric care with two-way radios to reach on-call doctors so they can save women’s lives. UNFPA will also provide 80 motorbikes for midwives so they can reach women in remote areas.

In Ghana, the money will be used to provide essential reproductive health equipment to clinics, including supplies to treat women who have suffered from genital cutting.

In Rwanda, UNFPA will provide ambulances to carry women to hospitals, and HIV/AIDS testing kits to be used in clinics.

In Eritrea, we will use the money to train 1,000 health assistants in basic emergency obstetric care to reduce the high incidence of maternal mortality.

I am pleased to announce that half of the first million, $510,000, will be spent to address obstetric fistula. This condition, which was eliminated in wealthy countries such as the United States over a century ago, continues to plague some 2 million women in poor countries, over 100,000 women every year.

In many places, especially rural areas, many women have little access to maternal health services, and they can be in obstructed labour for days on end without relief. In the case of fistula, the baby dies, and the mother is left ruptured and damaged, unable to control her bodily functions. To make matters worse, she is often abandoned by her husband and left alone to suffer in shame and silence.

Last year UNFPA started a global campaign to end fistula, and we will use this half a million dollars to prevent and treat fistula in six countries. The countries are Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Malawi and Bangladesh. We will also conduct needs assessments in seven countries to gauge the extent of the problem in each country and the ability of hospitals to perform surgery and provide post-operative care. The surgery to cure women living with fistula costs only about $350 and is over 90 per cent effective. Fistula is preventable and treatable and UNFPA is committed to help make fistula as rare in Africa and Asia as it is in the United States today.

In closing, I would like to appeal to the United States to reconsider its decision and to join the 136 other nations that support UNFPA. By doing so, you will be supporting a small and effective UN agency that improves the lives of millions of women, men and families around the world. I would like to note that $34 million in funding could prevent an estimated 800,000 abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths.

I would like to thank Tim Wirth and the United Nations Foundation for your ongoing support. And I would like to thank you again, Jane and Lois, for your commitment and hard work. It is just wonderful to have friends like you and I am confident there are at least 34 million other friends. I look forward to joining you both in Brussels, the seat of the European Parliament, on the 7th of May to celebrate and make new Friends of UNFPA in Europe.

Thank you.