As Heads of State and Government and delegations of Japan and African countries gather in Nairobi, Kenya, 27-28 August 2016 for the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive DirectorUNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, examines how collaboration with Japan and UNFPA is advancing reproductive, maternal and child health in Africa.
Japanese financial assistance to UNFPA has been crucial to improving the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people in many African countries.
In the East and Southern Africa region, Japanese assistance has helped respond to the needs of girls caught in the South Sudan crisis, including those forced to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia. UNFPA’s efforts have greatly contributed to saving lives and alleviating the suffering of women and girls in need of reproductive health and gender based-violence services.
In North Africa, we have been able to strengthen the capacity of midwifery schools to provide quality training and equip their labs, and to train hospital midwives and medical staff on emergency neonatal care services and infection prevention.
UNFPA Somalia launched a Health System Support project in 2015, which in just one year enabled 16,670 women to deliver safely. Japanese assistance has also been used to upgrade existing safe spaces for Syrian women and girls particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence in Egypt.
In the West African countries affected by Ebola – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia – Japan assisted in saving lives through its support to the Mano River Midwifery Response, and UNFPA’s efforts in the Ebola crisis have been recognized by the African Union Commission.
Funding from Japan has also helped ensure dignity and healing for women and girls rescued from Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.
Overall, Japan has consistently ranked among the ten highest contributors to UNFPA, and this support has enabled us to achieve significant results.
But more needs to be done.
Africa still has unacceptably high maternal mortality rates, estimated at495 deaths per 100,000 live births (2015; Trends in Maternal Mortality, 1990-2015). Only strengthened and resilient health systems that leave no one behind can redress the situation.
The capacity of health systems to provide comprehensive and holistic health services, including reproductive health commodities and life-saving medicines, is still weak in many African countries. Insufficient infrastructure, human resources and commodities hinder the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of health services.
Clearly, universal health coverage will not be achieved unless health centres have adequate and motivated health workers, including skilled birth attendants, midwives and community health workers.
Moreover, many countries are still affected by both rapid onset emergencies and chronic humanitarian crises. More than 65 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 – including more than 10 million internally displaced people, more than 4 million refugees, and more than 50 million people affected by El Niño-induced drought in East and Southern Africa. Several million more are at risk of an impending La Niña. And consider that around 60 per cent of maternal deaths occur in humanitarian situations.
At TICAD 6, we celebrate a partnership that has achieved significant results, saved and transformed lives and restored the hope and dignity of people in dire situations. TICAD is a unique process that has contributed to improving the lives of women and girls in Africa. We at UNFPA look forward to continuing to work hand in hand for a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund