The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) began operations in 1969. It offers assistance to developing countries, countries with economies in transition, and other countries at their request, to help them address problems related to population, including reproductive health.
In its work UNFPA is guided by the principles of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD, Cairo, September 1994), and the Key Actions agreed at the UN Special Session (ICPD+5, New York, June 1999). Amongst other issues the Programme of Action supports the right of each individual to meet their reproductive needs, including the rights to information and appropriate services.
The main areas of UNFPA assistance are:
• Ensuring universal access to reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health for all couples and individuals;
• Assist in strengthening national capacity to formulate and implement population and development strategies;
• Advocacy for ICPD and ICPD+5 goals, which include reproductive rights, and to increase awareness and resources for population and development programmes.
The UNFPA supported programmes globally, and also in Albania, are based on the ICPD principles, and on the national priorities of the country. The issues addressed include reproductive health, gender equality, promotion of male involvement, empowerment of women and young people and informed choice.
Reproductive health and reproductive rights are part of basic human rights. The basic premise is that all couples and individuals have the right to accessible and confidential services, privacy and respect, and the right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, and to have the information, education and means to do so.
Adolescent reproductive health is a very important field for UNFPA activities. There are more young people on earth than ever before. Being at risk of unwanted pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual exploitation, young people need reproductive health services and information to protect themselves. Sexuality education and correct information promotes safe and responsible behaviour, delays the age of starting sexual activity and leads to higher use of contraception and fewer sexual partners thus protecting the young people. These good effects are even greater when parents and children can talk honestly and openly together on these matters.
UNFPA’s approach to HIV/AIDS is focused on preventing infection and promoting reproductive health. In particular, UNFPA focuses on preventing HIV infection among young people and pregnant women, and supporting condom programming.
Improving reproductive health is essential for improving health in general. Reproductive health is affected by many factors including income levels, lifestyles, and access to health care. Availability of quality reproductive and sexual health services and contraceptive commodities calls for a multisectorial approach and the commitment and coordination of the various sectors, social, economic and political.
In Albania, UNFPA supported projects focus on these important issues.
To make the world a better place, improved access to services is closely linked to other global population issues. World population reached 6 billion on 12 October 1999, marking an increase of 1 billion people in 12 years, and a doubling of the global population since 1960. Nevertheless, family size has dropped by half since 1969 in developing countries. People enjoy longer, healthier lives. More people have access to family planning. However, there are over 1 billion young people aged 15 to 24 who need choices to make responsible decisions. Over half of all women will suffer some form of gender based violence and 600,000 women in developing countries will die in pregnancy and childbirth. Thus, women’s health and protection is of great importance.
World Population Day is celebrated by UNFPA all over the world each year on 11 July. Various themes in recent years include “Saving Women’s Lives”, “Population, Development and Environment” and for the year 2002 “Poverty, Population and Development”. Problems related to poverty and development are complex and interrelated. However, solutions are everywhere. By joining together in global efforts and country actions we can make a difference. In Albania, activities have included street theatre and the building and breaking of a wall symbolic of breaking through the barriers against women’s health. Such activities assist in raising awareness on women’s issues. Advancing gender equality and equity, the empowerment of women, and the elimination of all kinds of violence against women, and ensuring women’s ability to control their own fertility are cornerstones of population and development programmes.
Rapid population growth is an issue of global importance. Growing populations add to the pressure on natural resources and environment, thus hindering overall development and reducing the quality of life for all. The themes of World Population Day are also reflected in the International Poster Contest each year. The contest brings in young people and through their art, helps express their views of these issues which they will face in the future. The challenge of today is to improve the quality of life for a growing population without destroying the environment, thus moving towards sustainable development.
Real success stories inspire further action, which will help us to meet the ICPD goals by finding solutions to the problems. The commitment and support of all governments, through their policies and funding, to the ICPD Programme of Action is essential to the success of these efforts.