Babtunde Osotimehin on JHSPH Blog: The 21st Century Imperative

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), was among the presenters at the opening ceremony. Here are some excerpts from his remarks.

This conference in Dakar is officially about family planning. But it’s also about a larger effort to improve women’s and children’s health. It’s about every woman, every child.  It is about accelerating social and economic progress.  And it’s about a new path to sustainable development.

Family planning programmes not only save and improve the lives of women and children; they empower people, strengthen health systems, and reduce poverty.Voluntary family planning allows women and couples to determine the number, timing, and spacing of their children.  It is—and has to be—an essential part of integrated reproductive and maternal health programs, because wanted pregnancies are healthier pregnancies. Family planning can save lives. It is estimated that as many as one third of maternal deaths could be prevented if the unmet need for family planning were to be eliminated.

Yet, 215 million women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy still have no access to modern contraception, with life-threatening consequences. Every year, 358,000 women die from pregnancy-related complications.

Fulfilling the unmet need for modern family planning in developing countries would cost $3.6 billion, but this investment would actually lower the cost of providing maternal and newborn health services by $5.1 billion, resulting in a net total savings of $1.5 billion.

To meet the global demand for family planning, we must galvanize greater political and financial support.  We must hold governments accountable for their commitments, and champion innovation and access—both in the North and in the South. Investing in voluntary family planning today will not only pay dividends now, but will also help history’s largest generation of young people enjoy opportunities and forge a brighter future.

As our numbers keep growing past 7 billion, and so many suffer from poverty, poor health and lack of opportunities, it is more important than ever to ensure that every child is wanted and that everyone has the power and the right to manage their own fertility.

Sustainable development is the imperative of the 21st century. We must invest in people. We know the benefits, and we know what needs to be done. Now it’s time to redouble our efforts and deliver on our joint commitments.