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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At this year's African Union Summit, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim called on African First Ladies to use their positions and voices to stop early child marriage and teenage pregnancy.

In a speech read on his behalf by Bunmi Makinwa, UNFPA Africa Regional Director, at the 11th Extraordinary General Assembly of the Organization of First Ladies Against HIV & AIDS, Dr. Osotimehim noted: “Young women should go to and stay in school, learn about their sexuality and be equipped to avoid pregnancies and protect themselves from HIV.”

He said an increasing number of women and young people who would like to protect themselves from pregnancies are unable to do so due to lack of access to family planning services sexuality education and commodities they need.

“The number of women with unmet need for family planning in the poorest countries including Africa has increased from 153 to 162 million. We need to turn things around as a matter of urgency,” he said.

The UNFPA Executive Director praised the First Ladies for promoting the Campaign on the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), which has been been launched in 37 African countries. “It is gratifying to note that many of you personally launched CARMMA in your countries and have become champions in our joint effort to reduce maternal mortality and pregnancy-related deaths on the continent,” he said.

Dr. Osotimehin challenged the First Ladies to continue to serve as advocates of access to life-saving commodities for women and young girls, including by mobilizing communities, creating demand, supporting sexuality education and ensuring that issues affecting women and girls are raised at various sectoral Ministries, the Parliament and the Presidency.