ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly -- Partnering for Reproductive Health

18 February 2004
Author: UNFPA

Addis Ababa

Mr. (Madame) Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends,

It is a pleasure to be here today in the Ethiopian capital and it is an honour to address the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of African, Caribbean and Pacific States and the European Union.

To me, your organization exemplifies what is meant by the word “partnership.”

Partnership is about building and nurturing relationships and no one knows this better than all of you. As representatives of the people in your communities and countries, you know what it means to build relationships—and you know what it takes. You know how important it is to keep the lines of communications open, to engage in meaningful dialogue, and to work hand in hand for common goals.

You know what it means to reach across boundaries, to put aside differences, and to work together for the good of humanity.

This is the only international parliamentary assembly in which representatives of various countries sit together on a regular basis to promote the interdependence of North and South. And UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is proud to be your partner.

The work we do together—to prevent HIV infection, to reduce teenage and unplanned pregnancy, to promote health services to ensure healthy mothers and babies, and to protect young people—are important for many reasons. But the most important reasons are to improve human lives and to increase respect for their human rights.

As you know, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. Ten years ago, 179 governments, representing all cultures and religions, agreed on a common vision and plan to improve the quality of life of people, and to put the world on a more equitable and sustainable path.

The Cairo Programme of Action guides the work of UNFPA, and our work together. These efforts make a strong contribution to the achievement of international development goals.

As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has wisely stated: “The Millennium Development Goals, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women's rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning.”

The joint programme that we have built together addresses these needs. It sets an excellent precedent, and it is a unique partnership, which includes all of you and our friends at the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

I am pleased that this country, Ethiopia, has recently joined the seven other African nations that are part of the joint interregional programme that integrates activities in Africa and the Caribbean. The other nations in Africa are: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania. The two countries in the Caribbean that are participating are Jamaica and Suriname.

Despite their unique cultures and individual strengths, all of these countries share some common concerns. These include poverty, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS or rising infection rates, high levels of maternal mortality, and youth who are at risk. These risks are compounded by a lack of knowledge and services.

And that is, really, what the interregional programme is all about. It is about improving access to quality reproductive health information and services.

These services are vital, and access to them is a basic human right.

Don’t we all feel the anguish of the individual who loses his wife or mother in childbirth, because proper care is not available? Of the teenager whose options in life are cut short because she gets pregnant and drops out of school? Of the young man who gets infected with HIV because he did not have the information and means to protect himself? Of the woman who has to go on having children even though she knows her health is at risk? Or of the refugee who has been raped, but has nowhere to turn to ask for help?

At the Cairo Conference, world leaders agreed on the need to provide universal access to reproductive health, both as an issue of human rights, and as a development priority.

The report for this session makes these points clearly. But I would like to share with you the findings of a new report, called Adding It Up, which I launched in London two weeks ago. In the report, we’ve done the math.

When we add up the number of years of productive life lost to death or disability because of poor sexual or reproductive health—it totals a staggering 250 million years!

That is because nearly one fifth of the worldwide burden of illness and early death among all people—men and women—is due to poor sexual and reproductive health. Worldwide, among women of reproductive age, it is one third.

But this does not have to be the reality. Almost all of this death, disability and suffering is preventable through greater investment in reproductive health. And what is also clear is that these investments pay tremendous returns—leading to increases in economic productivity inside and outside the home, higher savings and investments, healthier families, and reductions in poverty.

Making these investments now in prevention also reduce future basic health care costs. Such investments fight the economic and social devastation caused by HIV/AIDS. The joint programme that we have undertaken is a smart investment, and a step in the right direction.

It is safe to say that family planning is one of the biggest success stories in development. And it is a direct contributor to poverty reduction, both at the household and national levels.

Just as important to a healthy and productive society is safe motherhood. After years of work in this area, we now know what is necessary to save women’s lives. We know that family planning is needed to ensure proper spacing between births, and that births do not come too early or late in life. We know that quality care is needed during pregnancy and childbirth, with skilled medical attendants present at the time of delivery. And we know, and this frankly has been the hardest lesson to learn, that access to emergency obstetric care is absolutely critical to treat complications if they arise.

The joint programme that we are undertaking together addresses these critical issues in a comprehensive manner, based on the needs of each country. It also addresses the important issue of gender and improving the status of women and girls, as well as increasing male involvement and responsibility.

The programme also focuses, as I mentioned earlier, on improving the reproductive health of adolescents. This is critical. Young people need information and services to protect their health and to enable them to make responsible decisions.

Finally, the programme supports the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. This is done through advocacy, counselling, behaviour change communications, community mobilization and the provision of condoms and diagnostic and testing facilities.

I would like to underline, most particularly, the design of the programme itself, for it is structured in a way to build capacity and promote ownership at the national level and to ensure sustainability and greater self-reliance. It is decentralized with large portions of the budget devoted to training and the provision of adequate medical equipment so that services can be effectively delivered, in accordance with high-quality standards. I would also like to stress that the programme also promotes partnership at the country level among governments, civil society and communities.

Progress is being made on the ground. Implementation of the programme started in the second half of last year, and the decentralized management unit in Dakar has been operational since late October. The Dakar unit is responsible for day-to-day project management and technical backstopping, in close collaboration with UNFPA’s Country Technical Service Teams in Dakar, here in Addis, and in Mexico City, for the Caribbean countries. Right now, a system of oversight and accountability is being developed to ensure that results are achieved and resources wisely spent.

I would like to stress that the programme’s success hinges on its response to national priorities and its integration into national development processes and programmes.

Distinguished delegates,

UNFPA is excited about this programme and we thank the European Union for its support, and the programme countries for their leadership and cooperation.

It is this kind of partnership that embodies the vision generated 10 years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo.

The Conference called for universal access to reproductive health care by 2105, as an indispensable part of the development agenda. This year, the world community is reviewing progress and ongoing obstacles in implementing the 20-year Cairo Programme of Action, as we reach its halfway mark.

We are documenting extraordinary achievements by developing countries in addressing reproductive health concerns. But the review also shows how the shortage of resources is impeding progress. While the developing countries have met their financial targets as agreed in Cairo, a close examination shows that just a few countries are paying the lion’s share. On the other hand, the donor countries are not meeting their target and in fact, have not crossed the halfway mark.

This is a cause of serious concern, as there are already serious gaps in the provision of services and serious shortfalls of contraceptives, condoms and other essential supplies.

The global community can afford to make the investments needed to close the growing gap in sexual and reproductive health care. Indeed, we cannot afford to do otherwise. The amount required, $18.5 billion per year, is dwarfed by the conservative estimates of $800 billion spent each year on global military spending.

Let us continue to work together as partners. As parliamentarians, you have a key role to play.

I would like to encourage you to keep up advocacy for the Cairo Programme of Action and the Ottawa Commitment, which was adopted at the International Parliamentarians’ Conference in 2002.

The agreed target of devoting 5 to 10 per cent of national development budgets to reproductive health is a good investment.

My friends, UNFPA is honoured to be associated with you. We look forward to continued collaboration.

Let us work together and expand our circle of friends to ensure that the promises that were made in Cairo are promises that are kept.

Thank you.

Population : 115 mil
Fertility rate
Maternal Mortality Ratio
Contraceptives prevalence rate
Population aged 10-24
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 31%
Girls 30%

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