Marking World Population Day, UN urges support for reproductive health services
United Nations officials observed World Population Day today by calling for greater support for reproductive health strategies as one of the key tools in the wider battle against poverty.
In a message to mark the occasion, Secretary-General Kofi Annan recalled that eight years ago at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, countries committed themselves to the goal of providing universal access to reproductive health services by the year 2015. That target was part of a larger package aimed at empowering women, promoting gender equality, slowing and eventually stabilizing population growth, and fostering sustainable development.
Since then, improved levels of schooling, higher survival rates of children, and better access to reproductive health services, including voluntary family planning, have helped to advance the Cairo agenda, Mr. Annan noted.
“This virtuous circle in turn makes further progress possible,” the Secretary-General said. “When individuals and couples are given a real choice, many decide to have smaller, healthier families and invest more in each child’s future. And because there are fewer dependents to support, the downturn in fertility translates into potential economic growth within a generation.”
Echoing that theme, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Obaid, said in a message that the men and women stuck in extreme poverty lacked opportunities and basic services to improve their situations, and urged greater efforts to support family planning.
The Executive Director also pointed out that perhaps nowhere was the need for reproductive health services more urgent than in the fight against HIV/AIDS. “Of all groups, women and youth are the most vulnerable,” she said. “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.”
Ms. Obaid said that the war on poverty would not be won unless more resources were directed 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,” she noted. “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.”