ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — New opportunities for cooperation, particularly in the areas of reproductive health and investments in youth, were on the agenda during UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin’s recent official visit to Turkmenistan.
The 17 to 19 August trip marked the first visit of a UNFPA head to the Central Asian country since the beginning of UNFPA operations in Turkmenistan in 1992.
In addition to meeting with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and top government officials, the UNFPA chief also spoke with Turkmen youth and toured a recently opened Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Ashgabat.
Speaking to President Berdymukhammedov, a doctor and former deputy prime minister responsible for healthcare, Osotimehin congratulated the Turkmen leader on reforms to the country’s healthcare sector, particularly the strengthening of its system for reproductive health. He also welcomed the government’s progress in implementing the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and noted the visible achievements made in the areas of maternal health, family planning, and gender equality.
“There is a visible commitment of the Government of Turkmenistan [towards] the ICPD issues, and UNFPA expresses readiness in supporting the government in its work to improve the lives of women and young people’s reproductive lives,” Osotimehin said.
Both sides acknowledged the strategic partnership between the Government of Turkmenistan and UNFPA, with Osotimehin promising UNFPA’s continued support for the government’s work to expand the opportunities of women and young people to lead healthy reproductive lives.
New focus on youth
President Berdymukhammedov expressed appreciation for UNFPA’s partnership, particularly in the area of youth policy development, including Turkmenistan’s recent adoption of a Youth Policy Law and a State Programme for its implementation. The president also invited UNFPA to support the government in organising an International Conference on Youth Development in Ashgabat in 2016.
With Turkmenistan stepping up investments in the area of reproductive health, both sides agreed that the next Country Programme for the period of 2016-2020 should look at expanding the focus on and investments in youth, the largest population group in the country. UNFPA plans to provide comprehensive technical support to the government to ensure that Turkmenistan is able to reap this demographic dividend.
“There is a need to hear the voices of young people, to create youth-adult dialogue to ensure that young people have all the opportunities to take part in the development of the country,” Osotimehin told government officials.
Meeting with Turkmen youth, Osotimehin in turn encouraged them to continue taking an active role in the development of their country, specifically in the context of the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals. The UNFPA chief also noted the importance of creating a platform for youth-adult dialogue so that young people have an opportunity to fully engage in decision-making.
As members of youth organisations shared their accomplishments within the framework of the Y-PEER youth centres recently established in Ashgabat and other cities, Osotimehin encouraged them to continue developing their education and skills in order to fully realise their potential. He also emphasised the importance of respecting adolescent girls.
Continued cooperation for better health
During his trip, the UNFPA Executive Director also held high-level meetings at the Cabinet of Ministers, the Mejlis (Parliament), and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Osotimehin additionally met with United Nations agencies as well as development partners and stakeholders to generate political commitment and resources for implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action in Turkmenistan.
At the newly opened Maternity and Children’s Hospital in Ashgabat, Osotimehin toured the facilities with hospital specialists and representatives of the Ministry of Health and the medical industry of Turkmenistan. Collaboration between UNFPA and the Government of Turkmenistan has resulted in recent years in improved quality of family planning and neonatal services due to standardisation of clinical practice. The government is continuing to increase its investments in maternity and child healthcare.
UNFPA support to Turkmenistan began in 1992 with the provision of reproductive health commodities, equipment, and capacity development for healthcare providers. The more than 20 years of partnership between UNFPA and the Government of Turkmenistan have resulted in many achievements in the areas of women’s and young people’s reproductive health, gender equality, and the use of population data to meet development-related goals.
With the government’s increased ownership of the new Country Programme between UNFPA and Turkmenistan for the period of 2016-2020, UNFPA will shift from service delivery and capacity-building to advocacy and upstream policy support. UNFPA expert support will focus on strengthening institutional capacities and mechanisms within the national health system to deliver high-quality, gender-sensitive, and client-friendly reproductive health services. It will also engage in upstream policy work to develop evidence-based programmes related to gender, youth, and data and population.