US decision on UNFPA "could have devastating effects": UN chief

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A UNFPA-supported health centre 400 kilometers southwest of Uganda's capital Kampala, includes a ward where women in their final stages of pregnancy can remain comfortably and avoid arduous travel once labour begins. Photo: UNFPA/Omar Gharzeddine

The decision by the government of the United States to end all funding for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) "could have devastating effects" on vulnerable women and girls around the world.

That's the view of the UN chief António Guterres on Tuesday, who said that the policy change was based on "an inaccurate perception" of the work done by UNFPA.

Matthew Wells has more.

The US State Department said on Monday it was ending funding for UNFPA, claiming that it "supports, or participates in the management of, a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization" in China.

But the UNFPA described that claim as "erroneous," saying that "all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination."

"Indeed", the statement added, "Member States have long described UNFPA's work in China as a force for good."

The agency said the support it had received from the US over the years had saved "tens of thousands of mothers from preventable deaths and disabilities."

UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said Secretary-General Guterres had repeatedly seen the good UNFPA does, for himself.

"He believes that the decision is based on an inaccurate perception of the nature and importance of the work done by UNFPA. As High Commissioner for Refugees for over 10 years, the Secretary-General saw firsthand the life-saving character of UNFPA's activities. He appeals to donors to increase their support for UNFPA to allow it to continue its critical work during this difficult period." 

UNFPA said US funds had previously allowed it to fight gender-based violence and reduce maternal deaths in areas of conflict and natural disaster, including in Iraq, Nepal, Sudan, Syria, the Philippines, Ukraine and Yemen.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1’21″

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