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Interview: UNFPA boss urges African leaders to invest in maternal health

Health & Science

African governments should scale up investments in maternal and infant health in order to realize socioeconomic transformation, Executive Director of the Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) Babatunde Osotimehin said on Sunday.

During an interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the AU Heads of State summit in Johannesburg, Osotimehin stressed that political commitment and smart investments were crucial to ensure women have access to quality healthcare services.

"As a continent, we need to scale up investments and advocacy to ensure the plight of women occupies center stage," Osotimehin remarked.

The 25th AU Heads of State Summit taking placing in Johannesburg will focus on women empowerment, regional conflicts, migration crises and the continent's long-term development agenda.

Osotimehin hailed African leaders for their renewed commitment to women and children's health.

"Africa has progressed rapidly in the area of maternal and child health. In a record 20 years, we have reduced maternal and infant deaths by 50 percent," said Osotimehin.

The Nigeria-born physician noted that even fragile states like Somalia have endorsed a comprehensive pact to promote maternal health.

"We have partnered with Kenya's First Lady on the Beyond Zero campaign that seeks to drastically reduce maternal and child deaths," Osotimehin told Xinhua.

Strategic investments in health and education sectors will enable African women realize their full potential.

Osotimehin urged governments to prioritize education for girls and enact sweeping legislation that protect them from harmful practices like early marriages and circumcision.

"Higher female literacy levels will ultimately augur well for African societies. We must empower women and girls and shield them from cultural practices that violates their rights," said Osotimehin.

African countries have made bold efforts to achieve gender parity.

Osotimehin noted that legislative and policy interventions have enhanced women's participation in public service.

"We have set a good precedent in the realm of gender parity. A country like Rwanda has 60 percent female representation in Parliament, it is the highest in the world," said the executive director.

He added that robust advocacy targeting leaders and communities is key to eliminate harmful practices like child marriages and female genital cut.

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