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UN Reports Mixed Progress in Fight for Sexual Health - 2004-09-15

The United Nations says there has been some progress in improving sexual health and combating poverty around the world, but more funds are needed to meet goals the international community set 10 years ago.

The report paints a mixed picture of global efforts to deal with the needs of an expanding population that is expected to grow from about 6.5 billion to nearly nine billion in 2050.

The director of the U.N. Population Fund, Thoraya Obaid, says donor countries have only given about half the money they promised 10 years ago at the world's last major population conference in Cairo.

"Progress has been uneven," said Thoraya Obaid. "So much more needs to be done, and the challenges we are facing are daunting. Gaps between rich and poor in access to health services persist throughout the world. Some 200 million poor women in developing countries continue to have an unmet need for effective contraception."

There has been controversy over U.N. population programs. President Bush this year blocked $34 million approved by Congress for the U.N. Population Fund, amid allegations the agency supported abortions in China. The U.N. denies the charge.

Dr. Obaid did not address the issue directly, but said European countries had increased donations and the number of developing countries that support the U.N. Population Fund has also increased.

But she said funding for the agency has been "woefully inadequate."

Among the report's key findings is that more than three-fifths of couples worldwide now use modern forms of contraception, compared with just more than half of all couples 10 years ago.

More countries have enacted laws to recognize reproductive rights, though enforcement is spotty.

Dr. Obaid says the most disturbing statistic is that one woman dies every minute from largely preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, about the same number as in 1994.