LONDON - Some countries have taken major strides to improve the rights and reproductive health of women but more must be done to meet goals set at a UN conference a decade ago, according to a report released on Tuesday.
Twenty-three countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Peru and the Philippines have made the most progress since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo but other nations have done little.
Burkina Faso and Cameroon have lost ground, said the report presented at the three-day meeting to assess how much had changed by the 10th anniversary of the Cairo conference.
"I do believe we have made tremendous progress from Cairo," Jill Sheffield, the president of New York-based non government organisation Family Care International, told a news conference.
But she added that there was still a long way to go.
At the Cairo meeting a decade ago 179 members of the United Nations set goals to improve women's reproductive health, education and rights, to reduce infant mortality and to curb population growth by 2015.
The London meeting, Countdown 2015, marks the halfway point to the deadline.
"Today we are at the mid-point of the plan that will not only save millions of lives, but is also critical to reducing poverty," said Thoraya Obaid, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
She identified three areas -- maternal health, HIV/Aids and access to and funding for condoms and contraceptives -- as critical to reaching the 2015 goals.
"Giving a woman access to reproductive health services and information is the surest way to help her avoid sexually transmitted infections. This would also save her from unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion," Obaid added.
The report used several criteria such as maternal and infant deaths, number of children, abortion policies, average number of children and HIV/Aids infections to rank 133 countries with populations of more than one million on their pace of change.
Among developed countries Portugal, Kuwait and the United States have made little or no progress, as did poorer nations Botswana, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa.
The report highlighted improvements in getting contraceptives to women and increasing enrolment of girls in secondary schools. More women are also elected to parliaments than a decade ago but they are still under-represented.
Despite better access to contraception, it is unavailable to 123 million couples who want to wait before having another child. One in 10 pregnancies ends in an unsafe abortion, which kills one woman every seven minutes, according to the report.
"Investing in sexual and reproductive health and rights transforms lives: a woman's life, her family's life, and in turn, the social and economic life of her entire country," said Amy Coen, president of the US-based research and advocacy group Population Action International which released the report with FCI and the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
About 700 health care experts, leaders and activists from 109 countries were attending the meeting organised by a coalition of non-government organisations.
Herald Feature: Health
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