Remarks for Launch of Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
United Nations Plaza Hotel
New York City
September 20, 2010

Thank you. I am honored to be a part of an effort lead by Chairwoman Mary Robinson and join dedicated country leaders to address the critical issue of reproductive health.

I’ve had the honor and privilege of knowing and working with many of you, some of you for a very long time. I began working on women’s health and access to family planning in the 1970’s with CEDPA, the Center for Development and Population Activities.

Since then, we have made measurable progress in improving the health and the lives of women and children, especially girls. While use of modern contraceptives worldwide has increased to 55% in 2008, developing countries still report only 21% use of modern contraceptives. We have greater access to neo-natal care, including medicines that prevent the spread of HIV from mother to child. We’ve significantly increased child survival rates.

Yet far too many women still have little or no access to reproductive health services family planning and maternal healthcare as well as HIV prevention services. Every year, hundreds of thousands of women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, nearly all of them in the developing world, and for every one woman who dies, 20 more suffer debilitating injuries or infections.

As Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, I see how these issues cut across a myriad of other global challenges. It’s an issue with vulnerable refugees - when I visited with Somali women in refugee camps in Kenya, they expressed their need for greater access to reproductive health care. It’s a security issue – the rapid increase in population and urbanization in Pakistan poses numerous challenges for their institutions. It’s an issue that fuels the spread of HIV: today, in both low and middle-income countries, HIV is the leading cause of death and disease in women of reproductive age. And as I traveled to the Arctic Circle, I recognized that as we adapt to our changing environment, women will be at the front lines of helping their communities find solutions. As leaders, we rely on women for solutions; and women are relying on us to advocate for these basic needs.

We only have five years to fulfill our commitments made in Cairo. We have committed to make access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services a basic right. We have committed to dramatically reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality. And today we stand together to strengthen those commitments with a vow to take action.

Today’s launch elevates the issue of women’s health and reproductive rights. Just look around - the high level representation symbolizes each government’s commitment. But we must ensure that commitment translates into action. Governments, NGOs and private must leverage our partnerships to scale up our work in family planning and maternal and child health.

We are all here today because we feel a common sense of urgency. I look forward to working with the Council to help realize these commitments. Together, we can help forge the path that creates solutions to our global challenges.