Message on the occasion of World Population Day. "More Resources for Women and Reproductive Health"

11 Jul 2002

Today on World Population Day, as we focus on "Reducing Poverty-Improving Reproductive Health," let us pledge once more to support women around the world and free them from poor health and illiteracy. When women are educated and healthy, their families, communities and nations benefit. Eight years after the historic International Conference on Population and Development, we must renew our commitment to universal access to education and reproductive health services by the year 2015.

The men and women stuck in extreme poverty lack real choices, opportunities and basic services to improve their situations. Due to inequality and discrimination, women suffer the most. One fourth of all women in developing countries are adversely affected at some point in their lives by a lack of proper maternal health care. Every minute, one woman dies during pregnancy and birth because she did not receive adequate care and prompt treatment. This amounts to deadly neglect. By increasing interventions for safe motherhood, especially emergency obstetric care, we can save the lives of half a million women and seven million infants, and prevent millions of women from suffering from infections, injury and disability each year.

Perhaps nowhere is the need for reproductive health services more urgent than in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Every day, 14,000 people are newly infected and half are young people under the age of 25. Many know little about the disease and how the virus is transmitted. Of all groups, women and youth are the most vulnerable. In some African countries, teenage girls are five times more likely to be infected with HIV than boys are their same age. Reproductive health services that empower women and young people with HIV/AIDS life-saving messages and skills will help stop HIV/AIDS from spreading and reduce further suffering and social and economic disruption.

We must also step up efforts for family planning. Today women in the developing world are having half as many children as they did in the 1960s, down from an average of six children per family to three. The last two generation of women have chosen to have smaller families and the next generation will do the same if they have access to education and reproductive health services. However, 350 million couples still do not have access to a range of effective and affordable family planning services and demand for these services is expected to increase by a further 40 percent in the next 15 years.

The war on poverty will not be won unless we direct more resources to women and reproductive health. Developing countries that have invested in health and education, enabling women to make their own fertility choices, have registered faster economic growth than those that have not. When couples can choose the number, timing and spacing of their children, they are better able to ensure there are enough resources for each family member to prosper and thrive. Today the greatest deficits in access to health services can be found in the poorest segments of the population. By channeling resources to reproductive healthcare, we can save lives, stabilize population growth, slow the spread of AIDS, reduce poverty and foster gender equality. Let us keep our promise and make that very good investment.

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