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Diverse Partners Renew Commitment to Reproductive Health, Rights in Asia

HYDERABAD, India, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Asia is moving too slowly in reducing maternal deaths, enabling young people to avoid HIV and making family planning more accessible, regional experts, advocates and activists agreed today.

Existing commitments and know-how must be applied more effectively to tackle these and other reproductive health challenges, according to An Open Letter to Governments adopted at the end of a three-day forum here.

Some 1,300 people from civil society and governments in 42 countries joined the Fourth Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (, one in an ongoing review series since governments pledged in 1994 to make reproductive health services accessible to everyone by 2005.

UNFPA, the United Nation Population Fund, was part of the international steering committee and provided partial support for the meeting.

In an opening session subtitled, "An unfinished agenda," UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, Purnima Mane, noted that Asia continues to have "high rates of unintended pregnancies, high rates of maternal death and disability, increasing numbers of new HIV infections, and persistent and widespread violence against women and girls," despite the region's progress in reducing poverty.

Action to address these concerns is far-reaching, and presenters in a diverse mix of sessions detailed program experiences in many countries, along with analysis of the reasons efforts still fall short of needs. The discussions on maternal health and family planning cited commitments made at the Women Deliver ( conference earlier this month, and the need to improve national health systems' ability to serve the poor.

Adolescents' need for critical information was a major theme. There were impassioned calls for comprehensive sexuality education, along with greater youth involvement in decision-making. Many young people participated, including a group of Pakistanis involved with UNFPA-supported reproductive health community youth centers.

Other sessions and skills-building workshops covered a wide range of issues, including sexual violence, unsafe abortion, reproductive health support in conflict situations and natural disasters, and the protection of the rights of people living with HIV.

The Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Gill Greer, was a keynote speaker along with Ms. Mane, who spoke on behalf of UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. Senior officials addressing the gathering included Dr. Zhao Baige, Vice-Minister of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, and Renuka Chowdhry, India's Minister of State for Women and Child Development. Lawmakers from many countries also took part in the conference.

UNFPA presented a set of reports and led a discussion on the causes and likely consequences of and potential remedies for son preference and prenatal sex selection in China, India, Viet Nam and Nepal (

"Too many governments remain shackled by external pressures, outmoded laws and regulatory structures undermining reproductive health," the Open Letter declared. Participants vowed to push for more resources, and to hold themselves accountable for their effective use.

They agreed to hold the next regional review in China in 2009.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, 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 programs 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.

SOURCE UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund
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