US to Drum Up Child-Survival Rates At Cairo Conference


AT a Monitor breakfast yesterday, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth outlined the United States' three goals for a global conference on population that begins in Cairo next week:

* Adoption of a comprehensive plan of action. That means going beyond providing couples with family-planning information and services, says Secretary Wirth, who will lead the US delegation. Also needed is a focus on boosting child-survival rates, which is linked to lowered fertility, and a focus on the education of girls, says Wirth.

* A commitment of resources to carry out the plan. The cost of providing universal access to reproductive services is $15 billion, says Wirth. Currently the world is spending between $5 billion and $6 billion. The US is the biggest donor.

* The empowerment of women. Wirth calls this the ``followup mechanism to make it all work.''

The conference is ``close to the last great hope that we have for stabilizing global population,'' says Wirth, a former senator from Colorado.

He points out that by the year 2000, there will be more than 1 billion teenagers in the world, the largest group of people in world history entering childbearing age. ``If we can't stabilize the population...,'' he says, ``then we're going to get another huge jump up to the next generation.''

The abortion issue is likely to draw the most controversy at the conference, because of the Vatican's strong anti-abortion stand. The US's position is that women should have access to the ``full range of reproductive services,'' including legal and safe abortion, says Wirth. He says the US is not trying to establish an international right to abortion, as abortion some foes have charged.

During past world population conferences divisions have surfaced between rich and poor nations over the urgency of the population problem and over the most appropriate means to deal with it. In the runup to Cairo, says Wirth, such divisions have given way to consensus.

``What's interesting about this conference is that the old North/South, East/West, rich/poor, white/nonwhite discussion is gone. It does not exist anywhere in this,'' says Wirth. ``The sense of urgency felt by countries all over the world at all levels of development, of all cultures and all religions, is what makes Cairo important.''

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