- His Excellency, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon
- Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson
- Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
- Her Excellency, Ambassador Edita Hrdá, and distinguished members of the Committee for the United Nations Population Award
- Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin by congratulating our fellow laureate, Father Aldo Marchesini, for his distinguished career and extraordinary commitment to population-related issues. His compassion and resilience in the face of adversity are a lesson for us all and truly inspiring.
This moment is profound. It is profound for me personally to stand here and receive this important award at the United Nations, but more important, it is profound as I represent today the tireless efforts of thousands of people across many countries who, for over 40 years, have believed passionately in family planning as a key strategy in improving the health of women and their families. And who understand that family planning saves lives.
We are deeply humbled to have been chosen among so many worthy candidates in the field of reproductive health for this distinguished award given by the Committee for the United Nations Population Award. It is associated with the many population issues championed by UNFPA, an organization that we greatly value and respect for their steadfast leadership in expanding opportunities for women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives.
Being recognized for our population-related work is especially meaningful for Jhpiego, as it is the cornerstone on which we were founded at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and an area we take great pride in and that has had an impact on population issues around the world.
Through the early work of our founders to educate doctors in the developing world on the latest in women’s reproductive health and technology, and our decades of experience strengthening pre-service education, over a million health care providers—doctors, nurses, midwives, community health workers—have been trained by Jhpiego in family planning and reproductive health.
Given that nurses and midwives often serve as the backbone of health systems in underserved regions and are the first and only link to health care for millions of people, we are particularly proud of our work in ensuring that they are appropriately trained, legally empowered and given the support they need to save lives.
While our expertise and scope of work have expanded over the past 4 decades to reflect the complexity of women’s health and include the burden of maternal and newborn death, infection prevention, HIV and AIDS, cervical cancer, and developing low-cost innovations, with a special focus on integration, our mission has remained the same, to prevent the needless deaths of women and their families.
We all know the troubling statistics:
- 1 in 3 maternal deaths and one-quarter of the deaths of children under the age of 5 could be prevented if all women had access to contraceptives to plan their pregnancies.
- Over 220 million women want to use family planning methods, but lack access to information and services, resulting in 2 in 5 pregnancies being unintended.
- 19% of adolescent girls in the developing world give birth before their 18th birthday and 95% are married.
- The leading cause of death for women of reproductive age worldwide is HIV and AIDS, and in sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of people living with the disease are women.
While these are sobering statistics, population issues are not about numbers—they are about people. They are about mothers, daughters, fathers, families. They are about basic human rights. Rights that should be available to all women and girls, regardless of their geographic location, economic status or cultural practices. Importantly and deeply, Jhpiego believes where you live should not determine if you live.
Jhpiego believes today, as always, that our mission is to work hand in hand with countries—their governments, local organizations, communities and the private sector—to help develop and execute their vision for their women and their people. With incredible support from those who fund us, USAID, PEPFAR, CDC, UNFPA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck, Laerdal Global Health, the Norway India Partnership Initiativeand many others, we have worked in 147 countries, some with the highest burden of maternal and child deaths or where unmet need for family planning is very high, helping millions of women access needed reproductive health and family planning services in places like India, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria and South Sudan.
While the circumstances of women in these countries are all very different, one universal theme has been present in every country—the undeniable role mothers play in maintaining the health and well-being of their families and communities.
We know that when a mother dies, her children are more likely to die within 2 years of her death. But if a mother is able to plan her family, stay alive and remain healthy, the results are higher incomes and better health for her and her children, which help ensure that fragile countries have the human capital they need to become politically stable and economically sound in the long term.
Mothers like Sabiya of India, who, while pregnant with her first child, was counseled about the importance of healthy birth spacing. With incredible support from her husband, this young mother chose family planning as a way to delay her next pregnancy, giving her time to recover from childbirth, replenish her energy and properly care for her son.
Or Eunice from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, who, after her fourth pregnancy in 6 years, knew she didn’t want to have more children anytime soon and opted for a long-acting family planning method. She now counsels other young women in her community on the benefits of family planning and birth spacing.
These are women who, through Jhpiego-supported programs, now have the tools and information they need to make decisions governing their own reproductive health and to have children at the time of their choosing.
But as proud as we are to receive this great honor, I know I speak on behalf of Jhpiego’s dedicated staff, 80% of whom work in the field, when I say there is much more work to be done.
Today, adolescents make up one-quarter of the world’s population. They are the generation that will build the foundation of the world’s future and we must address head-on the issues that will affect their health and well-being: encouraging a quality education, preventing child marriage, combating gender-based violence, and promoting access to health services and, of course, contraceptives and family planning.
The relationship between a woman and a man, whether it be her husband, partner or father, can support or impede a woman’s reproductive health, including the choices she makes about her own body. We must do more to engage men as supportive partners and advocates for family planning. By empowering women and engaging men, we can improve gender equality and achieve many of our development goals.
Lastly, having visited these regions on numerous occasions, I have seen firsthand the dire need to address the health crisis facing women and their families in West Africa. To date, we as a global health community have failed them. The challenge to us all is to invest more, both monetarily and in developing better, workable solutions, so that women and their families in this vulnerable region are not dying needlessly from neglect.
For as many years as it takes, Jhpiego is committed to achieving the goal of all women having access to family planning options, when they want them and where they live. We look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with UNFPA and our many partners to achieve this important goal.
Again, thank you to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson, Dr. Osotimehin, Ambassador Hrdáand the members of the Committee for the United Nations Population Award for this tremendous honor.