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UNFPA: Eyewitness Reports

By July 8, 2003News

– Release date: 09 July 2003

Last year some members of the Irish parliament had an opportunity to observe at first hand the work which the United Nations Population Fund is doing in developing countries. Here are some of their comments and observations:

On safe motherhood…

“I have visited Ethiopia twice over the past 10 months. On my last visit in January I visited a small village 150km from Addis Ababa. It struck me that at some stage the promotion of the half-door, such as were on Irish cottages, might be considered because it would help keep animals out of the house.

“I went into one house where the first thing I did was to stand on a heap of donkey dung. After some time in the house I realised there was a young woman on the floor. She had, I was told, given birth a few days before. She had the newborn at her breast and also a lovely 11 month old who seemed astonished to see someone with whom he would have to fight for his supper.

“The health prospects for this woman and her children concerns me. It is heartening to know that the Irish Government is committed to continued strong support for the work of UNFPA.”
Senator Mary Henry

On women’s empowerment…

“Giving women the opportunity to plan and space their children is critical to their empowerment in developing countries. In Ethiopia 77% of women have no education. Because of poor healthcare, they suffer one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Out of every 100,000 live births, 871 mothers die. The high fertility rate also plays havoc with the health of Ethiopian women.

“The impoverished women of Ethiopia need education and opportunities. By giving them a choice to use contraception and access reproductive healthcare, UNFPA is making a difference.”
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan

On obstetric fistula…

“Obstetric fistula is a condition caused by obstructed labour. The obstruction results in the rupturing of the internal passages of the bladder and bowel. The reason why fistulas are so prevalent in developing countries is because often the women and girls are so young when giving birth that their pelvis is underdeveloped.

“This means that they cannot have a normal birth and need a c-section. But because of the shortcomings of the health services in these countries this procedure, which we take for granted here, is not widely available.

“Some women with fistula never get treated. This results in untimely death. Without treatment, women curl up with pain and have no bowel and bladder control. Most are treated as outcasts.

“For those who can access treatment, most are returned to good health. Some can even have children again.

“UNFPA is working to train medical personnel right across the developing world to treat obstetric fistulas. This work is relatively inexpensive, yet so important in saving lives.”
Fiona O’Malley

On access to sex education and family planning…

“In a country with a population of 69 million, only 150 doctors graduate in Ethiopia each year. Most of these emigrate.

“Meanwhile, 166 in every 1,000 children die by the age of five years. Only 11% of births are assisted in the home or in a healthcare facility.

“The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is estimated to be 7.2%

“In the Northern region of Tegray, I observed how, through UNFPA assistance, the local Orthodox priest was working to communicate information about family planning and sexual health to his community. The benefits of his work were evident when we met with teenage parents who had two children and were not planning a third for five years. They felt that having the ability to space and plan their family could ensure better nutrition and educational opportunities for their children.

“It is critical that the Irish Government continues to support the work of UNFPA in funding sex education, family planning programmes and reproductive healthcare facilities.”
Simon Coveney