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The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially for the Goals 3 and 5 on health and gender equality, the UNFPA chief said.

Dr. Natalia Kanem, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund made the remark during her visit to China to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, from 25-27 April 2019.

She said the Forum comes at a crucial moment for the world, 4 years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and 25 years since the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which recognized that women’s rights, choices, and well-being are essential components required to achieve sustainable development.

Currently, 74 developing countries carry 95 per cent of the global maternal and child mortality burden. Research shows that an additional annual investment of USD5 per person in these countries would by 2035 generate up to 9 times worth of economic and social gains. 

“Healthy populations are central to eradicating poverty, safeguarding the environment and promoting robust economic growth,” said Dr. Kanem. She underscored that the Sustainable Development Agenda cannot be achieved until all people, especially women and girls, are able to make free and informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

During the past four decades, China has lifted more than 740 million population out of poverty and emerged from being among the poorest countries in the world to becoming the second-largest economy. China’s maternal mortality rate has been reduced from 120 deaths per 100,000 live births in the 1970s to 18.3 in 2018; the net enrolment of primary education has reached 99.5% in 2018, while the gross enrolment rate of higher education has reached 45.7% in 2018. 

“UNFPA has been a supportive partner and witness to China’s remarkable progress in reproductive health. This has been especially notable in the country’s reduction of maternal deaths, due in part to the expanded availability of and access to reproductive health commodities,” she said. China has a wealth of experience that other Belt and Road countries can learn from. 

In 2019, UNFPA estimates that 35 million women, girls and young people in humanitarian settings will require life-saving sexual and reproductive health services, and interventions to prevent gender-based violence and respond to the needs of survivors. In 2018, UNFPA reached over 15 million women, girls and young people affected by crisis worldwide. 

Now, with support from China, UNFPA is starting a project to harness the power of South-South cooperation to reduce maternal deaths in Sierra Leone, an African country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

“The Belt and Road Initiative will help speed up the achievement of the sustainable development goals in making sure every woman and girl can live a happy and fulfilled life.”

UNFPA is committed to leveraging its global network of more than 150 countries to facilitate bilateral and multilateral cooperation for the improvement of women’s health, in particular women’s reproductive health and reducing maternal deaths, which remains a major challenge to many countries in Africa and South Asia.

Dr. Kanem appreciated the Belt and Road to advance international cooperation including South-South cooperation and introduced UNFPA’s worldwide life-saving humanitarian work in the Thematic Forum on Trade Connectivity of the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. 

She committed UNFPA’s support to improve the lives of women and youth during meetings with Madam Li Bin, Vice Chairperson of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee and Mr. Zhang Maoyu, Vice Chairman of the China International Development Cooperation Agency, and during dialogue with 60 Chinese youth leaders at Yanching Institute of Technology.