With a woman dying every minute because of complications in childbirth or pregnancy, the UN appealed for the world to contribute more to improve women's health and access to contraception.
"It would cost the world only 23 billion dollars (R181 billion) per year to stop women from having unintended pregnancies and dying in childbirth," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Such a sum represents "less than 10 days of the world's military spending," Obaid said at the start of a forum on sexual and reproductive health bringing together hundreds of experts and aid workers from around the world.
The UNFPA finances contraception campaigns aimed at reducing the annual toll of 500,000 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth and the forum's task is to assess progress since a landmark population and development conference in Cairo in 1994. The Cairo conference was the first time that population problems were discussed in terms of individual rights rather than demographic control and ended with 179 nations agreeing to spend 17 billion dollars a year on family planning and maternal health.
Increased use of contraception
"Since 1994, there have been successes, everything is not gloomy and dark," Obaid said, citing increased use of contraception, although around 200 million women still do not have access to contraception, leading to 76 million unwanted births a year.
Obaid welcomed the United States' sexual health policy U-turn since President Barack Obama came to power. His predecessor George W Bush cut financing to the UN body for seven years.
"Mr Obama has inherited a very difficult legacy. We're sure happy that the US will come back as an active member in support of the UNFPA," said Obaid, with the US set to contribute 50 million dollars to the UN body this year.
Abstinance over abortion
The Bush administration cut the funding saying that the UNFPA was involved in forced abortion and sterilisation programmes in China, preferring instead to promote sexual abstinence, particularly in Africa.
Obama's administration has once more started to finance organisations that provide women with access to birth control or abortion. - (Sapa, September 2009)