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(Embargoed until 3 December 2002, 0001 GMT)

Ensuring Reproductive Health and Rights Would Go a Long Way in Overcoming Poverty, New Report Says

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK, 3 DECEMBER 2002 — Promoting reproductive health and rights is indispensable for economic growth and poverty reduction, according to a new report by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Developing countries that invested in education and health, including family planning, have achieved smaller families and slower population growth, and as a result, higher productivity, more savings and more productive investment.

Fertility declines, says the report, accounted for one fifth of the economic growth in East Asia between 1960 and 1995.

One the other hand, says The State of World Population 2002 report, inadequate efforts to provide reproductive health services and combat gender inequality result in continued high fertility among the poor, perpetuating poverty and inequality within both households and nations.

The report, People, Poverty and Possibilities: Making Development Work for the Poor, is being launched today in London, New York, Washington and other cities around the world.

Addressing population concerns, it states, is critical to meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty and hunger by 2015, reducing maternal and child mortality, curbing HIV/AIDS, advancing gender equality, and promoting environmentally sustainable development.

The UNFPA report argues that to meet these goals in developing countries, urgent action is needed to combat poor reproductive health, unwanted fertility, illiteracy and discrimination against women. Such efforts must directly target the poor, it adds.

Half the world’s population, or more than 3 billion people, live on less than $2 a day, and 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day. Poverty, however, is more than a lack of income, notes the report. It is characterized by insecurity, inequality, poor health, including poor reproductive health, and illiteracy. Its effects are exacerbated by the very wide gap in most societies between the richest and the poorest.

Global population is projected to increase from 6.2 billion today to 9.2 billion by 2050. The least-developed countries have the highest fertility and population growth, and their populations are expected to triple in the next 50 years, from 600 million to 1.8 billion.

Family planning programmes have proven to be responsible for almost one third of the global decline in fertility from 1972 to 1994. With adequate funding from the international community, says the report, such programmes can also be an effective tool for helping the poorest countries escape from poverty and insecurity.

Reproductive health services and information can help poor people escape poverty in other ways, notes the report. Better health, including reproductive health, removes a major source of insecurity among the poor, who themselves cite good health as the key to well-being.

The report notes that low-income countries are spending no more than $21 per person per year for all forms of health care, much of it on expensive curative services. For these efforts to be more effective, the report recommends spending more money on basic health prevention and care, which is cheaper than cure.

Access to basic education has improved, but there is much more to be done. The poor are still at a disadvantage since a large percentage of public spending on education goes to actions that benefit wealthier groups. Education empowers both women and men, the report contends, and more resources should be allocated to attaining universal primary education for all, particularly girls.

The report underlines the threat of HIV/AIDS to a whole generation, describing it as a personal tragedy as well as a social disaster. The pandemic is especially dangerous for the poor, who are more vulnerable to all health risks. Poor people, especially women, lack the knowledge and the power to protect themselves. Young people, who account for half of all new infections, have the least access of all groups to information and services for HIV/AIDS prevention. Stopping the pandemic means stopping the infection, says the report, and this highlights the need for adequate reproductive health information and services.

In view of the documented link between population policies and poverty reduction, the report calls on countries to take advantage of the unique economic opportunity represented by falling birth rates. A “demographic window” opens when a rapid decline in fertility increases the proportion of working-age people relative to younger and older dependants; this gives developing countries that make appropriate investments a one-time chance to increase productivity and savings and lay the basis for future progress. The window closes as the population ages and older dependants start increasing.

International donors need to increase their funding of reproductive health programmes, says the report. Spending on basic reproductive health and population programmes in 2000 was $10.9 billion, $6.1 billion short of the $17 billion the international community agreed was needed to achieve universal access to reproductive health care by 2015. Contributions by donor countries were less than half the required $5.7 billion level.

“Universal access to reproductive health care, universal education, and women’s empowerment are development goals in their own right,” says the report. “But they are also conditions for ending poverty, closing the gaps between richer and poorer in the world, and creating a global society that is both stable and just.”

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UNFPA’s State of World Population report has been published annually since 1978. Each year, the report focuses on questions of current interest and concern for the future. The report is available online, at www.unfpa.org. For more information contact Micol Zarb, +1 212 297 5042, or zarb@unfpa.org.

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