The world is mourning the passing of the head of the U.N. population agency, Babatunde Osotimehin, who was a global leader in promoting public health, sexual and reproductive rights and services for women and girls. Osotimehin, who was 68, had led the United Nations Population Fund, known as UNFPA, since 2011, died Sunday evening at his home. He is survived by his wife, Olufunke Osotimehin, five children and several grandchildren.
Babatunde Osotimehin was born in February 1949 in Ogun State, Nigeria. After receiving a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1979 he directed his attention to matters of youth and gender, within the context of reproductive health and rights. Among other notable positions in his earlier days, he became in March 2007 the Director-General of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS, an agency that coordinates all HIV and AIDS work in a country with more than 150 million people.
After which he served as Nigeria’s minister of health in December of 2008. During his tenure, he united all 36 states to build a national health plan focused on primary health care.
The UNFPA Executive Director served in various advisory boards and councils. Outside the United Nations, Osotimehin was chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Demographic Dividend and co-chairman of the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group.
In December he also 2005 received Nigeria’s national honor, officer of the Order of the Niger.
Dr. Osotimehin was admired globally for his leadership of the UN Population Fund. He assumed office on 1 January 2011 as the head of the world’s leading provider of family planning services, including contraception. During his tenure he mainly:
- Led efforts to advance a 1994 action plan adopted by 179 countries that recognized for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and to choose whether to become pregnant.
- Advocated family planning services, championed methods to prevent maternal deaths in childbirth and sought to eliminate harmful practices against women and girls.
- Expressed his strong view that population stabilization was tightly linked to female empowerment. “There are countries where the population is growing faster than the economy,” he told The New York Times in 2012. “We try to work with these countries to make sure girls have access to education to empower women to participate in politics and the economy.”
UNFPA is dedicated to continuing Dr. Osotimehin’s grand vision for women and young people and will continue to stand up for the human rights and dignity of everyone, particularly the most vulnerable adolescent girls, the statement added.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations said “Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are among the most important, and often sensitive, on the international agenda. Dr. Babatunde’s calm yet ardent efforts helped families get the sexual and reproductive health services they need, and helped the world advance the landmark 1994 Cairo Program of Action on Population and Development.”
Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, said Osotimehin was instrumental in promoting “the sexual health and rights of refugee women” and “will be sorely missed.”
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations issued a statement saying it was “saddened” to learn of the UNFPA leader’s death and “grateful for Dr. Osotimehin’s many years of service.” Adding, “His leadership made a difference in the lives of so many around the world.”
Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also mourned Dr. Osotimehin’s passing saying, “Dr. Osotimehin was a constant partner and respected leader in the global effort to provide essential health care,” said Mr. Lake. “He was also a vocal advocate for improving collaboration across the UN family, with a focus on achieving results, especially for the poorest and most disadvantaged.”
The world mourns a great advocate that believed:
“humility is the key to engaging people and facilitating change.”