Senior officials from 30 countries pledged to do more to promote safe motherhood, family planning, gender equality and adolescent health, at a forum reviewing regional progress since the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, organized the meeting as part of a worldwide series of activities commemorating the landmark 1994 Cairo conference.
"Fifteen years later the ICPD goals remain out of reach for too many countries and too many groups of people in Asia and the Pacific," UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Noeleen Heyzer noted in welcoming remarks.
"With more than 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the region accounts for half the global total," she said - deaths that could mostly be prevented with skilled birth assistance as the ICPD Programme of Action calls for. She said she intended to initiate a regional UN system campaign to give top priority to reducing maternal mortality.
Much has been accomplished since 1994, observed Purnima Mane, UNFPA Deputy Executive Director, but the goal of universal access to reproductive health by 2015 - now a target under the Millennium Development Goals - remains unfulfilled. Further progress, she said, will require greater efforts to reduce inequalities in health provision and more funding, particularly for birth care and family planning.
Opening the forum, Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya cited his country's progress in reducing poverty and extending reproductive health care and other social services, and offered to share its successful approaches with other developing countries.
Nafis Sadik, former UNFPA Executive Director and Secretary-General of the ICPD, said that the 1994 conference showed that the success of demographic policies depends on the affirmation of the right to sexual and reproductive health, and that both are essential for sustainable development. This perspective, she lamented, is largely absent from current global discussions on climate change.
Dr Sadik, now the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific, called for increased attention to protecting the intimate partners of men who engage in risky sexual behaviour, noting that Asian women generally "lack power to negotiate condom use, for example."
Papua New Guinea's Minister for Community Development Carol Kidu chaired the two-day forum. More than 100 representatives from about 30 governments, as well as civil society and other international organizations in Asia and the Pacific took part.
Group discussions focused on access to reproductive health care, including family planning, promoting gender equality and ending violence against women and girls, international migration and population ageing. Participants' policy recommendations were included in a Declaration on Population and Development adopted at the forum's closing.
"This is a moment of opportunity," the Declaration states, with just five years left to realize the Cairo objectives and the MDGs. It identifies a set of key actions countries in the region must take to close critical gaps in implementing the Programme of Action and address new challenges, such as the global economic crisis and climate change.
The Asia-Pacific High-level Forum on ICPD at 15: Accelerating Progress towards the ICPD and Millennium Development Goals was preceded by an NGO forum and an experience-sharing meeting on South-South cooperation, organized by Thailand and UNFPA.