The United Population Fund or UNFPA is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
Meeting Development Goals
UNFPA seeks to improve the lives and expand the choices of individuals and couples. Over time, the reproductive choices they make, multiplied across communities and countries, alter population structures and trends.
UNFPA helps governments, at their request, to formulate policies and strategies to reduce poverty and support sustainable development. The Fund also assists countries to collect and analyse population data that can help them understand population trends. And it encourages governments to take into account the needs of future generations, as well as those alive today.
The close links between sustainable development and reproductive health and gender equality, the other main areas of UNFPA's work, were affirmed at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. UNFPA is guided in its work by the Programme of Action adopted there. At the conference, 179 countries agreed that meeting needs for education and health, including reproductive health, is a prerequisite for sustainable development over the longer term. They also agreed on a roadmap for progress with the following goals:
- Universal access to reproductive health services by 2015
- Universal primary education and closing the gender gap in education by 2015
- Reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015
- Reducing infant mortality
- Increasing life expectancy
- Reducing HIV infection rates
Reaching the goals of the Programme of Action is also essential for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These eight goals, which are fully aligned with the ICPD roadmap, have the overarching aim of reducing extreme poverty by half by 2015. UNFPA brings its special expertise in reproductive health and population issues to the worldwide collaborative effort of meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Improving Reproductive Health
The critical importance of reproductive health to achieving international development goals was affirmed at the highest level at the 2005 World Summit. Reproductive health is also a human right. Yet, reproductive health conditions are the leading cause of death and illness in women of childbearing age worldwide, and at least 200 million women want to plan their families or space their children, but lack access to safe and effective contraception.
UNFPA promotes a holistic approach to reproductive health care that includes:
- Universal access to accurate information, a range of safe and affordable contraceptive methods, and sensitive counselling
- Ensuring that quality obstetric and antenatal care is available to all pregnant women
- Prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV
Investments in reproductive health save and improve lives, slow the spread of HIV and encourage gender equality. These benefits extend from the individual to the family and from the family to the world.
Making Motherhood Safer
Every minute, a woman in the developing world dies from treatable complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Every minute, a family is devastated. The lives of surviving children are put at risk. Communities suffer. And for every woman who dies, as many as 20 others are seriously harmed by fistula or other injuries of childbearing.
UNFPA's strategy for preventing maternal mortality includes:
- Family planning to reduce unintended pregnancies
- Skilled care at all births
- Timely emergency obstetric care for all women who develop complications.
UNFPA also advocates at many levels for the right of mothers to give birth safely. It spearheads the global Campaign to End Fistula, a collaborative initiative to prevent this devastating injury of childbirth and to restore the health and dignity of those who have been living with its consequences. And it is working to address the shortage of skilled midwives in much of the developing world.
However, based on the most recent statistics, maternal deaths are declining far too slowly to meet the MDG and ICPD target for a 75 per cent reduction by 2015.
Supporting Adolescents and Youth
Almost 1.5 billion people are between 10 and 25 years old. Almost half of young people live in poverty. Yet traditional youth programmes are not reaching those most in need, especially marginalized adolescent girls. Addressing the critical challenges facing the largest youth generation in history is an urgent priority if social and economic development efforts are to succeed and the AIDS pandemic is to be reversed.
UNFPA’s 'four keys' to opening up opportunities for young people include incorporating youth issues into national development and poverty reduction strategies; expanding access to gender-sensitive, life skills-based sexual and reproductive health education; promoting a core package of health services and commodities for young people; and encouraging young people's leadership and participation.
The AIDS epidemic is a global catastrophe responsible for over 20 million deaths worldwide, tens of millions of children left orphaned, and some 33 million people living with HIV. Although global HIV prevalence has levelled off, AIDS is among the leading causes of death globally and remains the primary cause of death in Africa.
Recent evidence shows that sustained, intensive programmes in diverse settings are reducing HIV incidence through behaviour changes, such as increased use of condoms, delayed sexual initiation and fewer sexual partners.
As one of ten co-sponsors of UNAIDS, UNFPA works to intensify and scale up HIV prevention efforts using rights-based and evidence-informed strategies, including attention to the gender inequalities that add fuel to the epidemic.
Within UNAIDS, the Fund takes a leadership role in condom programming and prevention among young people and women, two groups who are increasingly at risk of infection. It also reaches out to other vulnerable populations. Linking HIV/AIDS with sexual and reproductive health care is the overarching strategy for reaching more people cost-effectively and moving towards the goal of universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.
Promoting Gender Equality
Women can and must play a powerful role in sustainable development and poverty eradication. When women are educated and healthy, their families, communities and countries benefit. Yet gender-based discrimination and violence pervade almost every aspect of life, undermining the opportunities of women and denying them the ability to fully exercise their basic human rights.
Gender equality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals as well as a human right. Investments in gender equality can improve the lives of both men and women, with lasting benefits for the next generations. For more than 30 years, UNFPA has been in the forefront of bringing gender issues to wider attention, promoting legal and policy reforms and gender-sensitive data collection, and supporting projects that empower women economically.
Using Culturally Sensitive Approaches
UNFPA's activities touch on the most sensitive and intimate spheres of human existence, including reproductive health and rights, gender relations and population issues. Attitudes about these subjects vary widely between and among different cultures.
Changing deeply rooted attitudes, behaviours and laws-especially those dealing with gender relations and reproductive health-can be a long process that requires a culturally sensitive approach. The Fund respects cultural diversity. At the same time, it rejects those practices that endanger women and girls. It works closely and respectfully with communities to enlist their support in upholding the human rights of all its members.
Protecting Human Rights
All individuals are entitled to equal rights and protections. This idea is fundamental to UNFPA's mission and to its way of working.
A strong emphasis on the rights of individual women and men underpins the 1994 Cairo Consensus that guides UNFPA's work. This emphasis on human rights at the ICPD marked a shift in population policy and programmes away from a focus on human numbers and placed human lives front and centre. At that meeting, delegates from all regions and cultures agreed that reproductive health is a basic human right and that individuals should be able to freely choose the number, timing and spacing of their children.
Numerous international agreements affirm the human rights principles that underpin UNFPA's work in reproductive health, gender equality and population and development.
Securing Reproductive Health Supplies
Without essential commodities-from contraceptives to testing kits to equipment for emergency obstetric care-people cannot fully exercise the right to reproductive health. In many places, male and female condoms are urgently needed to prevent the further spread of HIV. UNFPA's mandate in this area is to provide the right quantities of the right products in the right condition in the right place at the right time for the right price. This complex logistical process involves many actors from both the public and private sectors. UNFPA takes a lead role in reproductive health commodity security, by forecasting needs, mobilizing support, building logistical capacity at the country level and coordinating the whole process.
Assisting in Emergencies
Humanitarian crises are reproductive health disasters. In times of upheaval, pregnancy-related deaths and sexual violence soar. Reproductive health services - including prenatal care, assisted delivery, and emergency obstetric care - often become unavailable. Young people become more vulnerable to HIV infection and sexual exploitation. And many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancy in perilous conditions.
Within the coordinated, inter-agency response to disasters, UNFPA takes the lead in providing supplies and services to protect reproductive health, with an emphasis on the special needs and vulnerabilities of women and young people. Priority areas include safe motherhood; prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV; adolescent health; and gender-based violence. The Fund also supports various data collection activities, including censuses to provide detailed information for planning and rapid health assessments to allow for appropriate, effective and efficient relief. UNFPA encourages the full participation of women and young people in efforts to rebuild their societies.
As the world's leading multilateral agency on population, UNFPA is the most prominent international advocate for reproductive health and rights, including the right to choose the number, timing and spacing of one's children.
Working in partnership with other United Nations agencies, governments, communities, NGOs, foundations and the private sector, the Fund raises awareness and mobilizes the support and resources needed to reach the targets set forth at the International Conference on Population and Development and in the Millennium Development Goals. In 2007, UNFPA received a record high in voluntary contributions for its core resources from 181 countries, also a record number.
UNFPA's Global Reach
UNFPA supports programmes in four regions: Arab States, Europe and Central Asia; Asia and the Pacific; Latin America and the Caribbean; and sub-Saharan Africa. We work in about 150 countries, areas and territories through nine Country Technical Services Teams and 112 country offices. Three-quarters of UNFPA staff work in the field.
State of World Population
The State of World Population is the centrepiece of UNFPA’s worldwide media communications and advocacy efforts during the year. Since the authoritative report was introduced in 1978, it has been enthusiastically received, and journalists regularly refer to it as a source. Each year the report documents an issue related to the UNFPA mandate in depth and has frequently led to broader discussion of key issues. Since 2006, an annual youth supplement is published as well, which explores the theme of the main report through the experiences and perceptions of young people.