Press Release

UNFPA Calls On World Leaders To Ensure Safe Motherhood For All Women

9 May 2003
Author: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK – On the eve of Mother’s Day, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid today called on world leaders to ensure safe motherhood for all women.

“Whether in New York, Nashville or Nairobi, every woman should enjoy a healthy pregnancy and safe childbirth,” said Obaid. “Yet today one woman dies every minute from pregnancy related complications and this is unacceptable.

“As mothers are honored in the United States with cards and presents to symbolize their importance, let us also remember women in other countries, for whom pregnancy and childbirth is often life-threatening,” said Obaid. “There is an urgent need to make the health of women a top priority and to devote the necessary resources to save women’s lives.”

Many health indicators have improved in recent years but maternal mortality and morbidity remain alarmingly high. Worldwide, the disparity in maternal health between rich and poor countries is the widest of all health indicators.

“While the average obstetrician in the United States is unlikely to see a single maternal death in his or her entire career, complications of pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15 to 49 in many poor countries,” Obaid said. “The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 16 in the world’s poorest nations compared to less than 1 in 3,700 in the United States.”

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports safe motherhood interventions in more than 140 countries—through reproductive health programs executed with local and international partners. The three-pronged strategy focuses on voluntary family planning, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric care.

“Maternal mortality claims over half a million women’s lives each year. Nearly all these lives could be saved if affordable, good-quality obstetric care were available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Obaid said. “When women experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and 15 per cent of all pregnant women do, access to emergency obstetric care means the difference between life and death.”

Most of the deaths are caused by haemorrhage, obstructed labour, infection, unsafe abortion, and eclampsia, which is pregnancy-related hypertension. Other indirect causes are malaria, anaemia and HIV/AIDS.

“Half of all HIV infections today are among women and many of these women are mothers,” said Obaid. One of the top priorities of UNFPA is HIV prevention. “Preventing HIV infection among pregnant women ensures that the mothers remain healthy and their babies do too.”

UNFPA Executive Director Obaid commended the U.S. Administration for its leadership in recently committing $15 billion to HIV/AIDS initiatives in Africa. Part of the funding will support ABC prevention efforts that focus on abstinence, be faithful and the consistent use of condoms. “The complete ABC approach addresses real people’s real needs and will save the lives of countless women and mothers,” Obaid said.

She challenged the United States Administration to further demonstrate its commitment to saving women’s lives by resuming its funding for UNFPA. The U.S. Government decided last July to withdraw $34 million in Congress-approved funds due to allegations that UNFPA supports forced abortions in China. But three fact-finding missions, including one handpicked by the U.S. State Department, found no evidence of such claims and recommended that the funding be released.

“The American people themselves have voiced their support for UNFPA and global women’s health through a grassroots campaign that has raised more than $1 million since last July,” she said. The 34 Million Friends campaign was started independently by two American citizens: Jane Roberts of California and Lois Abraham of New Mexico. More than 100,000 American citizens have contributed to the campaign.

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The United Nations Population Fund provides international leadership on population and reproductive health issues and is a key source of financial assistance for family planning, safe motherhood and HIV prevention programs in developing countries.

Contact Information:

Ann Erb Leoncavallo
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5023
Cell Phone: +1 (646) 226-6142

Stirling Scruggs
Tel.: +1 (212) 297-5011
Cell Phone: +1 (917) 400-4103