Statement to the Panel on Health at the World Summit on Sustainable Development

26 August 2002

I am pleased to deliver a statement on health and sustainable development on behalf of Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

A healthy nation needs healthy people. Every human being is entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. However, this healthy life eludes millions and millions of our fellow citizens around the world. While we have made much progress over the past decades to extend life expectancy and decrease child mortality, there are other areas where much more progress is needed. One of these areas is reproductive and sexual health.

In many countries, people know too little about health and the reproductive cycle and lack access to appropriate services. Women are denied the freedom to manage their lives, and girls are expected to marry young and have children early-instead of attending school. These factors and others endanger health and limit the potential of women and their families. And some of the consequences are tragic:

Every minute:

One half of the 380 women who become pregnant did not plan or wish the pregnancy;
110 women experience a pregnancy complication
100 women have an abortion, of which 40 are unsafe
11 people are newly infected with HIV/AIDS.
Today, one half of all women in the developing world deliver their babies without skilled medical help. This lack of care often translates into tragedy. One woman dies every minute, one half a million women a year. And for every woman who dies, 20 to 30 others suffer serious disability or injury.

By far the worst outcome is a condition known as obstetric fistula. The woman is usually very young and very poor. She may be in obstructed labour for three or four days, and her baby usually dies. The young woman is left with a hole called a fistula through which there is uncontrollable leaking of urine and/or faecal matter. This condition was eliminated in wealthy nations over 100 years ago, but it continues to strike 100,000 poor girls and women in developing countries each year. UNFPA has mounted an international campaign to prevent fistula and perform corrective surgeries for fistula patients.

Good health and education are the very foundation for escaping from poverty and for building a decent and dignified life. This is especially critical in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Today, UNFPA supports the prevention of HIV/AIDS in more than 100 countries. As a co-sponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), we focus on three specific aspects of prevention: education and counselling to help young people avoid infection and have access to services; helping pregnant women avoid infection so that they and their babies remain HIV-free; and ensuring that condoms are readily available and are used consistently and correctly.

However, I must tell you that the shortfalls that many countries face today for condoms, contraceptives and other supplies are enormous, and the gap between supply and demand continues to grow. In fact, the demand for contraceptives alone is expected to increase by 40 per cent over the next 15 years. UNFPA has initiated a global strategy to close the gap between supply and demand for contraceptives and condoms and we need further support.

Today, nearly 60 per cent of couples in the world use some form of modern family planning method compared to 10 per cent just 40 years ago. This represents a major revolution in a short period of time. But, we all know that this record of achievement could and should be much better.

Today, fertility remains highest in the poorest countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than one half the demand for contraceptives is being met. Today, there are still 350 million couples without access to a full range of family planning methods.

Finally, let me say that UNFPA is pleased that the final agreement being finalized here in Johannesburg recognizes the importance of reproductive and sexual health, consistent with the outcomes of previous United Nations conferences, including the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994). But, we need increased funding to ensure progress. Even though needs are growing and the benefits are clear, funding for population and reproductive health issues has dropped by 25 per cent since 1995. We must reverse this trend.

Reproductive health services, such as care during pregnancy and birth, family planning, the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and the prevention of HIV infection, help people to live better, healthier and more productive lives. These services make a vital contribution. They reduce poverty, slow the spread of AIDS, empower women, and slow population growth. This is a direct contribution to sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Thank you.

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