30 May 2008The health of African women is lagging behind the rest of the world, and leaders should move the issue to the top of their agenda, according to the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). “Of all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), goal number five – preventing women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth – is generating the least resources and lagging the furthest behind. And African women are paying the price,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said today.Ms. Obaid was speaking today at the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV), a joint process between Japan and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).She called on all leaders “to make the health of women a political and development priority.”In a related development at the summit, Japan announced a doubling of development assistance for Africa over the next five years.“In the future, Africa will become a powerful engine driving the growth of the world,” Prime Minister of Japan Yasuo Fukuda said at the opening of the conference.Mr. Fukuda pledged that Japan would offer up to $4 billion of loans to assist African countries boost infrastructure and agriculture, and he also announced the creation of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation Facility for African Investment, which would extend $2.5 billion in financial support.“The theme of the Conference very much captures the impressive achievements of many African countries,” said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. “In terms of overall economic progress, average annual economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been above five per cent since 2004, reaching 6 per cent in 2007 – one percentage point higher than the world average.”Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro stated that “with a concerted drive by African governments and their development partners, we can accomplish these goals for a better world.”TICAD IV priorities include boosting economic growth, ensuring human security, ensuring achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), consolidation of peace and democratization and climate change.Japan will feed the results of the summit into the G-8 meeting of leading industrialized nations, which will be held in Tokyo in July and chaired by Mr. Fukuda.