Press Conference by Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

27 January 2009

Press Conference by Executive Director of United Nations Population Fund

27 January 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today welcomed last Friday’s announcement by President Barack Obama regarding his intention to work with Congress to restore United States financial support for the Fund, which had been withheld for the past seven years.

Speaking to the press at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, Thoraya Obaid, the Fund’s Executive Director, welcomed the intention of the President to ensure that the United States would join “180 other donor nations working collaboratively to reduce poverty, improve the health of women and children, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide family planning assistance to women in 154 countries”.  She also thanked all the 180 countries that had “stuck with us for the past seven years and never failed us in their support”.

“President Obama’s actions sent a strong message about his leadership and strategic vision to support causes that will promote peace and development, equity and dignity, equality for women and girls and economic empowerment of the poor in all regions of the world,” she said.  With the resumption of United States funding, UNFPA would be able to maintain recent gains during the current financial crisis and provide support to women in the poorest countries of the world.  United Nations Member States had repeatedly said that progress for all would not happen without progress for women.  That meant making women’s health, rights and equality an international priority.

She also welcomed the decision of the new United States administration to revoke the Mexico City policy, which paved the way for a restored United States partnership with some of the world’s leading non-governmental organizations that provide family planning services around the world.  Access to safe and effective voluntary family planning, as Mr. Obama had said, was one of the most effective ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies and empowering women and men to plan their families.  If a woman could not take decisions about her own fertility, she could not make decisions about anything else in her life.

Noting some progress since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, she said that work remained to be done at the national, regional and international levels.  More than halfway towards the 2015 target date for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the goal on maternal and reproductive health had made the least progress and was the most underfunded.  Globally, the rate of death from pregnancy and childbirth had declined by just 1 per cent between 1990 and 2005.  Every minute, a woman lost her life giving birth, adding up to 10 million women over a generation.  Some 90 per cent of those deaths occurred in developing countries, particularly Africa and Asia.

“What does this say about all of us at the beginning of the twenty-first century?” she asked.  And that was why the Fund looked forward to working with President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and the people of the United States to achieve the collective goal of supporting women and girls in the poorest countries to reach their fullest potential.  “We welcome the opportunity to work with the United States again as a full partner and we look forward to being part of President Obama’s call “for a fresh conversation on family planning, working to find areas of common ground to best meet the needs of women and families around the world”.

Responding to questions, she said that the exact United States contribution would depend on a Congressional decision, but the discussions there ranged from $40 million to $60 million.  The total budget of the Fund amounted to about $430 million per year. 

Some 67 per cent of the Fund’s resources went to the least developed countries, she said.  UNFPA’s interlinked programmes focused on several critical areas, including birth attendance, emergency obstetric care and family planning.  The Fund also heavily invested in the programmes addressing fistulae and worked hard to link sexual and reproductive health with HIV/AIDS programmes, so poor women in developing countries could receive maternal care and HIV/AIDS counselling at the same place.  Globally, the goal was to make sure that women everywhere had access to reproductive health by 2015.

Responding to a question about the Fund’s contributors, she said that the Netherlands was the biggest contributor to UNFPA.  That country provided about $54 million.  The Nordic countries, including Sweden and Denmark, followed, as well as the United Kingdom and Japan.

To a question about family planning, she said that its importance was demonstrated by the fact that unsafe abortion was considered the second leading cause of death for African women.  Women who did not have access to family planning would go to have unsafe abortions, which often led to death.  There were 200 million women who would like to plan their families, but had no access to family planning services.

Asked about coordination among various players, she said that there was an informal group called Health-8, which included the World Bank, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNFPA, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the vaccine alliance, the Global Fund for HIV, Malaria and Tuberculosis and the Gates Foundation.  Next week, she would be attending a meeting in Geneva, where “we are trying to get together to see how to have a division of labour as we support countries to build health systems, so that they can reach communities”.

Regarding the Fund’s programmes in relation to the world’s ageing population, she said that UNFPA was promoting the policies that could help countries to deal with that issue.  In particular, the Fund was providing assistance to the countries of eastern Europe and central Asia, which had low fertility and ageing populations.  Work was also being conducted in the countries with large youth groups, which would eventually begin to age.  Experience from the countries with large ageing populations was being used to help those countries to “start thinking ahead of time”.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.