Babatunde Osotimehin Introduction

On November 9, 2011 Jonathan Fanton introduced Babtunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund, for a discussion on global maternal mortality rates and issues of women’s health more generally.

Introduction of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

November 09, 2011

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of Roosevelt House, and it is my honor to welcome you to a very special evening. Our guest is Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund.

It is a special pleasure for me because he is my friend, colleague and mentor. When I was President of the MacArthur Foundation our population program focused on the improvement of maternal health and the reduction of maternal mortality. Our theory was straightforward: if women and their families have access to good information and health care they will make sensible reproductive choices. We focused on reduction of maternal mortality, a critical goal in itself, as a key indicator of whether women were getting adequate reproductive health counseling and care. Over 350,000 women die every year giving birth, 99% in the developing world. That represents one death every 90 seconds, so 60 women will die during the 90 minutes we are together. And the great majority of those deaths are preventable.

We see an inextricable link between respecting human rights and population policy. One of our focus countries is Nigeria. And that is where I first met Dr. Osotimehin a decade ago when he was a professor at the University of Ibadan and Chairman of the National Action Committee on AIDS.

Dr. Osotimehin was the principal advisor to MacArthur’s population work not just in Nigeria but worldwide. He served on our International Advisory Group for Population and Reproductive Health and was a Distinguished Resident Fellow at our Chicago offices in 1996.

He is well prepared for his current appointment as the UN’s Chief Population officer. He completed his medical studies at the University of Ibadan and then received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham. He has been a Fellow at Cornell’s Medical School and at Harvard’s Center for Population and Development Studies.

He has seamlessly combined a career of scholarship, reflection and purposeful action. He was Provost of the College of the Medicine at the University of Ibadan, Project Manager of the World Bank funded HIV/AIDS program in Nigeria, Director-General of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS and Minister of Health for Nigeria, to mention just a few of his leadership positions.

As Minister of Health he focused on strengthening the basic primary health care system in Nigeria. He has a comprehensive view of health care: “It is everything together,” he said, “We must invest in health systems that can look after everything and invest in prevention, prevention, prevention.” And on his watch Nigeria achieved a dramatic decline in the rate of new polio cases. He showed great diplomatic skill in engaging community leaders, especially in the North, to support immunization.

On October 31, just 10 days ago, it is estimated that the world’s population surpassed 7 billion. There are an estimated 1.8 billion adolescents and youth aged 10-24, more than a quarter of the world’s population, and almost 90% of them live in developing countries. Dr. Osotimehin has therefore made youth the focus of UNFPA, especially women.

In his statement to the UNFPA Executive Board he made an eloquent call to action:

“Advancing the right to sexual and reproductive health lies at the heart of UNFPA. To garner greater progress, we will advocate for investments by countries and donors for a comprehensive package of integrated sexual and reproductive health services as well as comprehensive sexuality education.”

And he has made human rights a cornerstone of his approach. In that same speech he said,   “We will continue to champion human rights, including girls’ education through the secondary level, and the right of women and girls to be educated and make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health. We will continue to work to advance reproductive rights, end child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting and improve prospects for adolescent girls. UNFPA will also continue to work to end sexual violence and further advance the women, peace and security agenda.”

He will tell us about the work of UNFPA and give us a candid assessment of the prospects for reaching MDG #5, the reduction of maternal mortality by 50% by 2015.

As we look the images of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt behind us, I think they would be pleased we are addressing these serious issues in their home through the lens of the United Nations.

After Dr. Osotimehin talks we will have a conversation and invite your questions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

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