UNITED NATIONS — The head of the U.N. population agency, Babatunde Osotimehin, who was a global leader in promoting public health and sexual and reproductive rights and services for women and girls, died at his home, the agency announced Monday.
Osotimehin, who was 68, had led the United Nations Population Fund, known as UNFPA, since 2011. The agency said he died Sunday evening.
Born and trained as a doctor in his native Nigeria, Osotimehin was the country’s minister of health before taking the reins of UNFPA with the rank of undersecretary-general. Prior to that, he was director-general of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS and served as provost at the University of Ibadan College of Medicine.
As head of UNFPA, he spearheaded efforts to advance the breakthrough action plan adopted by 179 countries at the 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo. It recognized for the first time that women have the right to control their reproductive and sexual health and to choose whether to become pregnant.
Osotimehin also championed U.N. goals of preventing maternal deaths in childbirth, meeting all demands for family planning, and eliminating harmful practices against women and girls.
UNFPA called his death “a devastating loss” for the agency “and for the people, especially women, girls and youth, he dedicated his life to serving.
“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,” UNFPA said in a statement. “He understood that the world’s 1.8 billion young people are truly its greatest hope for the future.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the world has lost a great champion of health and well-being for all.”
“Sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights are among the most important, and often sensitive, on the international agenda,” Guterres said. “Dr. Babatunde’s calm yet ardent efforts helped families get the sexual and reproductive health services they need, and helped the world advance the landmark 1994 Cairo Program of Action on Population and Development.”
Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, said Osotimehin was instrumental in promoting “the sexual health and rights of refugee women” and “will be sorely missed.”
The Trump administration, which has banned U.S. funding for international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information, recently announced that it was cutting all funding to UNFPA.
The U.S. Mission to the United Nations issued a statement saying it was “saddened” to learn of the UNFPA leader’s death and “grateful for Dr. Osotimehin’s many years of service, dedicated to improving global health.”
“His leadership made a difference in the lives of so many around the world,” the mission said.
Outside the United Nations, Osotimehin was chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Demographic Dividend and co-chairman of the Family Planning 2020 Reference Group.
He was married, had five children and several grandchildren, UNFPA said.
No funeral arrangements were announced.