Associated Press, September 15, 2004
Uneven Progress on Tackling
LONDON - Wealthy countries are falling billions
of dollars short of their promises to help
fund reproductive health care and improvements
in the status of women around the world, the
United Nations said Wednesday.
The world body's Population Fund said there has
been significant but uneven progress in the
past decade on those issues, which it sees
as central to tackling poverty and keeping
population growth in check.
The gaps between rich and poor nations remain
vast, the U.N. population agency said in a
halfway point report on the 20-year goals set
at a landmark 1994 U.N. population and poverty
conference in Cairo, Egypt.
The meeting set the target of ensuring all people
have access to reproductive health care by
2015, a goal only reachable with a huge new
infusion of cash, the U.N. Population Fund
Having children remains enormously risky for
women in impoverished nations, it reported.
Women in Africa are 175 times as likely to
die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth
as those in industrialized countries, the report
There are about 529,000 deaths per year from
those causes, and the vast majority are in
poor countries, the report said. The number
has not changed significantly since 1994, but
most of those deaths could be prevented if
all mothers-to-be had access to decent health
care, the report said.
The agency said the idea that the intertwined
problems of population growth and poverty are
best dealt with by improving women's rights,
including their access to health care and education,
had gained worldwide acceptance in the decade
since it was put forth by the 1994 conference.
"The dialogue about population has changed
from population control - numbers of people
- to the human rights of people, women in particular,"
she said. "It's focused on the well-being
of people, rather than on the number of people."
Nearly all the 151 poor countries surveyed by
the agency now have laws or policies in place
to protect the rights of women and girls, although
laws on violence against women are often not
enforced, the agency said.
It said 131 of the survey countries had changed
national policies, laws or institutions to
recognize reproductive rights.
Sixty-one percent of couples worldwide now use
modern forms of contraception, up from 55 percent
in 1994, the report said. But 200 million women
in poor countries who don't want another child
within two years are not using birth control,
The agency said wealthy countries that in 1994
pledged an annual $6.1 billion toward reaching
the Cairo goals on women's rights and health
care are giving only half that amount.
President Bush has blocked $34 million in congressionally
approved annual assistance to the agency, alleging
it helped China manage programs that involved
forced abortions, a charge it calls baseless.
U.N. Population Fund director Thoraya Obaid said
countries in Europe and elsewhere had more
than made up that money, with the Netherlands,
Japan, Norway and Denmark at the top of the
donors' list, but overall funding was still
If reproductive health issues are not addressed,
Obaid said at a news conference, "that
means increased poverty, more death."
"This year's report is, above all, a call
to mobilize the political will and resources
needed to make the Cairo vision a reality,"
The U.N. Population Fund estimates world population
at 6.4 billion people and predicts it will
increase to 8.9 billion by 2050, with almost
all the growth in poor countries. The 50 poorest
nations are expected to triple in population
to 1.7 billion people.
Obaid said sexual health is now more widely discussed
in many nations, an awareness she predicted
would lead to concrete progress.
"It's not a taboo anymore; it's more of
an open discussion," she said. "I
think this has come as a result of Cairo."
The report said many countries had begun to integrate
sexual health care into primary health care
facilities, a move the U.N. agency backs.
But donor countries' support for condoms and
other forms of contraception has decreased
over the past decade, while demand is expected
to increase by 40 percent by 2015.
If more money isn't found, the number of people
without access to birth control, prenatal health
care and HIV/AIDS prevention is expected to
grow, the report said. Currently in sub-Saharan
Africa, an area devastated by AIDS, the average
number of condoms per man is three a year,
The report said fewer than 20 percent of those
at high risk of contracting the AIDS virus
have access to prevention, even though 75 percent
of countries surveyed said they had a national
ON THE NET
U.N. Population Fund, www.unfpa.org
<< Associated Press -- 9/15/04 >>
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