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52. Promoting Reproductive and Maternal Health

By promoting the right of individuals to make their own decisions on the number and spacing of their children through voluntary family planning programmes, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has helped people to make informed choices and given families, especially women, greater control over their lives. As a result, women in developing countries are having fewer children—from six in the 1960s to three today—slowing world population growth. Fewer unintended pregnancies also means less maternal death and fewer abortions. When UNFPA started work in 1969, fewer than 20 per cent of couples practiced family planning; the number now stands at 63 per cent. UNFPA and its partners also help to provide skilled assistance during childbirth and access to emergency obstetrical care. UNFPA supports safe motherhood initiatives in more than 90 countries.

53. Responding to HIV/AIDS

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) coordinates global action against an epidemic that affects some 35 million people. It works in more than 80 countries to provide universal access to HIV prevention and treatment services, as well as to reduce the vulnerability of individuals and communities and alleviate the impact of the epidemic. UNAIDS brings together the expertise of its 11 co-sponsoring UN organizations.

54. Wiping Out Polio

Poliomyelitis has been eliminated from all but three countries—Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan—as a result of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Thanks to the Initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 million people are walking who would otherwise have been paralyzed by polio. A disease that once crippled children in 125 countries is on the verge of being eradicated.

A child with Polio

55. Eradicating Smallpox

A 13-year effort by the World Health Organization (WHO) resulted in smallpox being declared officially eradicated from the planet in 1980. The eradication has saved an estimated $1 billion a year in vaccination and monitoring, almost three times the cost of eliminating the scourge itself.

56. Fighting Tropical Diseases

A World Health Organization programme reduced levels of river blindness (onchocerciasis) in 10 West African countries while opening up 25 million hectares of fertile land to farming. Today, the disease is being controlled in 19 more countries under the African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control. In 1991, efforts by UN agencies in North Africa led to the elimination of the dreaded screw worm. Guinea-worm disease is on the verge of being eradicated, while other diseases, such as leprosy—which has been eliminated in 119 out of 122 endemic countries—schistosomiasis and sleeping sickness are now under control.

57. Halting the Spread of Epidemics

The World Health Organization helped to stop the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). In March 2003, it issued a global alert and emergency travel advisory, and its leadership helped to stop this new disease, which had the potential to become a worldwide epidemic. WHO investigates over 200 disease outbreaks each year, 15 to 20 of which require an international response. Some of the more prominent diseases for which WHO is leading the global response include ebola, meningitis, yellow fever, cholera and influenza, including avian influenza.

58. Pressing for Universal Immunization

Immunization saves more than 2 million lives every year. As a result of efforts by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, other organizations and Governments, an estimated 84 per cent of the world's children are now vaccinated with the diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus vaccine, up from 20 per cent in 1980. Between 2000 and 2012, measles deaths declined by 78 per cent globally. Barriers to introducing new vaccines are gradually being overcome, and contacts forged through immunization are being used to provide additional life-saving assistance, such as insecticide-treated nets to protect against malaria and vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition.

59. Reducing Child Mortality

In 1990, 1 out of 10 children died before they were five years old. Through oral rehydration therapy, clear water and sanitation and other health and nutrition measures undertaken by UN agencies, child mortality rates in developing countries had dropped to 1 in 20 by 2013. The goal is now to reduce the 1990 under-five mortality rate by two thirds by 2015.

60. Protecting Consumers' Health

To ensure the safety of food sold in the marketplace, FAO and the World Health Organization, working with Member States, have established standards for more than 200 food commodities, safety limits for more than 3,200 food contaminants, and regulations on food processing, transport and storage. Standards on labelling and description seek to ensure that the consumer is not misled. More food than ever before is travelling the globe, and the United Nations works to make sure that it is safe.