“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend”
…from William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets
Our lives are but a puff of wind little wonder the scripture says “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). The world was shell shocked following the untimely demise of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, a former Minister of Health in Nigeria and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, who passed away suddenly during the evening of 4th June 2017 in his home in West Harrison, New York.
Since his demise, glowing tributes from governments across the world including Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, Acting President, Federal Republic of Nigeria; the United Nations, World Health Organisation Africa Region, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Refugees international, to name but a few have continued to rent the air to a great ‘colossus’ known as a global advocate for women’s health.
Fondly admired globally for his leadership of the UN Population Fund and forceful advocacy for the world’s women and girls in particular, Late Dr. Osotimehin’s unrelenting efforts to stand up for human rights and dignity of everyone, particularly the most vulnerable adolescent girls, helped families get the sexual and reproductive health services they need.
During one of his mission to Northern Nigeria to advocate for the reproductive health and rights of women and girls, late Dr. Osotimehin said “For women and girls, especially pregnant women, who may face life-threatening childbirth complications, as well as lactating women, caring for newborns throughout the chaos, whether they live or die in a crisis often depends on their access to basic sexual and reproductive health services.”
He also championed ways to prevent maternal deaths during and strongly advocated for the elimination of genital cutting in women and girls.
Corroborating this, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres revealed that late Dr. Osotimehin helped the world advance the landmark 1994 Cairo Programme of Action on Population and Development.
“Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are among the most important, and often sensitive, on the international agenda. His voice was invaluable over the years, including his time as Nigeria’s Minister of Health, in pressing for family planning, women’s education, children’s health and action on HIV/AIDS as vital ingredients in human progress” Guterres said in a statement.
In a statement by UNFPA management, Dr. Osotimehin was bold and never afraid of a challenge and his strong leadership helped keep the health and rights of the world’s women and girls high on the global agenda.
“He understood that the world’s 1.8 billion young people are truly its greatest hope for the future. 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.
“He vigorously championed three major transformative goals of zero preventable maternal deaths, zero unmet demand for family planning and the elimination of harmful practices against women and girls. UNFPA urges all to honour his legacy by rallying around those global goals.”
Born on 6 February 1949, the 68 year-old physician completed his medical studies at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1972 and received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom, in 1979. He was named Professor at the University of Ibadan in 1980 and headed the Department of Clinical Pathology before being elected Provost of the College of Medicine in 1990.
Previously serving as Nigeria’s Minister of Health and Director-General, National Agency for the Control of HIV and AIDS, he coordinated all HIV/AIDS work in Nigeria. The UNFPA Executive Director also served in various advisory boards and councils, chairing the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Demographic Dividend.
He was a Global Agenda Trustee for the Forum’s Global Challenge on Economic Growth and Social Inclusion, and co-chaired the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group, and also served as Chair of the National Action Committee on AIDS, between 2002 and 2007 before becoming an undersecretary general with the United Nations. Dr. Osotimehin also received the Nigerian national honour of Officer of the Order of the Niger, in December 2005.
After his appointment as UNFPA Executive Director, effective on 1 January 2011, he spearheaded efforts in the international community to advance the milestone consensus of the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994.
Upon moving into his second term in 2015, Dr. Osotimehin introduced new reforms that increased the effectiveness and efficiency of UNFPA and outlined a more robust vision for improving the lives of women, adolescents and youth around the world with a focus on maternal health and voluntary family planning. He also steered UNFPA’s humanitarian action and efforts around eliminating gender-based violence and other harmful practices.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin was married with five children and several grandchildren.
While investments in the health and well-being of girls and women yield exponential gains, improving their lives as well as the productivity and prosperity of families, communities, and future generations, Dr. Osotimehin promoted education for girls rather than be immediately married off by their families.
“If you educate girls to the secondary level, then exposure to pregnancy doesn’t happen until they are mature and can make choices,” Dr. Osotimehin said.
Alexander Chiejina is a Communication Analyst with ardent zeal to see an efficient and effective healthcare system operational in Nigeria. Alex can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.