Deputy Secretary-General Says Investment in Women's Health, Well-Being Is Crucial Strategy in Effort to Lift Nations from Poverty
Monday, October 29, 2007 9:28 AM

24 October 2007

Deputy Secretary-General Says Investment in Women's Health, Well-Being Is Crucial Strategy in Effort to Lift Nations from Poverty

Address to Global ‘Women Deliver’ Conference in London

This is the text of remarks by UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro at the “Women Deliver” Global Conference in London on 18 October:

I am happy to be with all of you today.  It is wonderful to be surrounded by so many champions of women’s health and women’s rights.  I count myself as one of you.  And I am proud to be joined by the leaders of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Asia and Pacific region.

Let me thank the organizers, Jill Sheffield of Family Care International and all the partner organizers, for holding this landmark Conference.  Thanks for the warm welcome extended to us by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Minister Douglas Alexander.  I would like to thank the United Kingdom for the generous contribution just announced by Minister Alexander of £100 million to the UNFPA to support women’s health in Africa and Asia.

We are gathered here because we know that women deliver.  They deliver for their children and their families.  They deliver for their communities and their nations.  Now, it is time for the world to deliver for women.  It is time to increase investment in women’s health and well-being.  This is why we welcome support from the United Kingdom.

This is not only an imperative in its own right; it is also a prerequisite if entire nations are to lift themselves out of poverty.  It is not only a Millennium Development Goal in itself; it is a condition for meeting several of the other Goals.

If there is one lesson we in the United Nations have learned over the years, it is that investing in women is the most productive strategy a country can pursue. Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective, no policy more likely to raise economic productivity, improve nutrition and promote health, or increase the chances of education for the next generation.

That approach includes making sexual and reproductive health a priority.  Twenty years ago, partners launched the Safe Motherhood Initiative at the landmark Safe Motherhood Conference in Nairobi.  Since then, at a succession of summits and conferences, the international community has made repeated commitments to improve maternal health and reduce maternal mortality worldwide.

And yet, despite all these pledges, progress is painfully slow.

Consider the latest maternal mortality estimates, released just a few days ago by the United Nations system.  At the current pace, we will not reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio by the target year of 2015.

Yes, we have seen progress in middle-income countries.  But there have been only small gains in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the overwhelming majority of maternal deaths occur.  Of all health indicators, maternal mortality shows the largest gap between rich and poor, both within and among countries.

According to the estimates, as we have also heard before, a woman in a developed country faces a lifetime risk of 1 in 7,300 of dying during pregnancy or childbirth.  For a woman in a developing country, the risk is 1 in 75.  In Africa, it is 1 in 26.

This situation is intolerable.  Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just from carrying out their reproductive function?

Yesterday, here in London, I joined millions of others around the world in the campaign to Stand Up against Poverty.  It was a collective effort to call on leaders to hold to their commitments and make the Millennium Development Goals a reality by the target date of 2015.

We know that we will not make poverty history until we end maternal mortality. And we know what works and what needs to be done.  Every woman needs access to reproductive health services, to voluntary family planning to reduce unintended and high-risk pregnancies.  Every woman needs access to antenatal care and skilled attendance at the time of delivery, including trained midwives in their communities.  Every woman needs access to emergency obstetric care.  And every woman should have access to quality care in case of complications arising from unsafe abortion, including counselling, education and family planning services.

That means strengthening health systems, and ensuring that health services reach women at the community level.  It means linking reproductive health services with interventions for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.  It means making them a part of essential services delivered at the primary health-care level.

The United Nations family is committed to this cause.  We are committed to working with all of you.  We are committed to a global partnership for women’s health and women’s rights.  Let us join hands to deliver for women.

Published in: "Deputy Secretary-General Says Investment in Women's Health, Well-Being Is Crucial Strategy in Effort to Lift Nations from Poverty," Press Release, United Nations, 24 October 2007.