A champion for vulnerable girls and women: tributes paid to UN agency chief Babatunde Osotimehin

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UNFPA Executive Director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin at the UN General Assembly (UNFPA)

Barriers to education, Child nutrition (Early years), Discrimination of marginalised children, Early childhood development, Girls' education, Health and education convergence, Right to education

One word summed up Babatunde Osotimehin – he was a champion. For young people in general and specifically for the rights of disadvantaged girls and women around the world.

The word appeared repeatedly in tributes paid to the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, after his death at the age of 68.

“The world has lost a great champion of health and well-being for all,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“He was admired globally for his leadership of the UN Population Fund and for his forceful advocacy for the world’s women and girls in particular.”

Dr Osotimehin – a medical doctor and public health expert – had headed UNFPA since 2011. The agency said it was dedicated to continuing the Nigerian’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

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Dr Osotimehin with a Nigerian woman and her newborns at a health facility in Maiduguri, Borno State (UNFPA)

UNFPA – which helps women and young people to lead healthy and productive lives – said he had “vigorously championed” three major global goals:

  • Ending preventable maternal deaths
  • Tackling unmet demand for family planning
  • Eliminating harmful practices against women and girls

It added: “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.” 

Sarah Brown, President of Theirworld, said Dr Osotimehin was “a towering figure in the world of maternal, newborn and child health”. 

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A Syrian refugee with her children at the International Patients Helping Society clinic in Urfa, Turkey. She is receiving post-natal care (UNFPA)

She added: “He was a champion for the most vulnerable and marginalised women and children in the poorest parts of the world and understood the big-picture changes needed to improve their lives. 

“He never wavered in his leadership role at UNFPA at working to end avoidable maternal deaths, to provide family planning and to end unsafe practices like FGM. 

“He will be sorely missed in the international community for his professional expertise but also as a great friend.”

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, said: “Babatunde Osotimehin will be remembered for improving the lives of women and young people and promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights. Young people have lost a champion today.”

Born in 1949, Dr Osotimehin studied medicine at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and received a doctorate in medicine from the University of Birmingham in London.

The father-of-five became director-general of Nigeria’s National Agency for the Control of AIDS and was minister of health from 2008 to 2010.


UNFPA works in more than 150 countries and territories. Its mission is to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

It focuses on women and young people because their ability to exercise their right to sexual and reproductive health is often compromised.

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