Access to reproductive health services key for Africa's future

Thursday October 3 2013

United Nations Population Fund executive director Babatunde Osotimehin talks to a refugee mother and her children at Dadaab on September 2, 2011. Photo/FILE

United Nations Population Fund executive director Babatunde Osotimehin talks to a refugee mother and her children at Dadaab on September 2, 2011. Photo/FILE 

By Christabel Ligami, Special Correspondent

Empowerment of women and young people, and access to sexual and reproductive health services have been sited as the key pillars to a sound post 2015 development agenda in Africa.

According to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), this will lead to a reduction in poverty levels, sustainable development and ensure that African people enjoy reproductive health and sexual rights.

According to ICPD beyond 2014 survey conducted in 2012, over half of the 800 maternal deaths that occur globally each day are in sub-Saharan Africa with more than half of the region’s adolescent girls giving birth before age 20.

Also 13 million girls on the continent have been forced into marriage before they are 18 years increasing their risks of domestic violence, early child – bearing and persistent poverty.

The report reveals that about 4 million youth in the region are infected with HIV and with 45 per cent of women and girls above 15 years experiencing physical and sexual violence in their lifetime.

However, there are notable gaps in the attention paid by governments to urban management and services, out-of-school youth, research and data collection, and environmental management in all the African countries.

“Solving these problems is a matter of political will backed up by resources to ensure that they are implemented,” said the ICPD report.

Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director United Nations Population Fund, while addressing the ICPD Africa ministers Regional Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014 in Addis Ababa said despite the fact that Africa has made strides in governance, education, reduction of poverty to some extent, reducing communicable diseases, recognising and according women the quality and security they are entitled, much more needs to be done.

“The continent is still challenged with extreme poverty and disparities, social exclusion, inequalities and addressing the needs of the young and the old,” said Dr Osotimehin adding that challenges related to the status of women and girls, and ensuring universal access to basic health services as well as addressing the unmet needs of about 47 million women for family planning is still an issue.

“These challenges are linked in vicious self–perpetuating cycle that must be broken.”

Africa, he said, accounts for just one per cent of the world’s financial resources for health and three per cent of the global health work force which is a reason for the limited and inequitable access to health services and very poor health outcomes for the continent particularly to its most vulnerable people.

The ICPD’s High Level Task Force has therefore called upon governments to respect, protect and fulfill sexual and reproductive rights for all through legal and policy reforms, public education campaigns, and community mobilisation on human rights.

“Accelerate universal access to quality, comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health information, education and services to young people in and out of school,” noted the HLTF statement.

“Eliminate violence against women and girls and secure universal access to critical services for all victims and survivors of gender–based violence.”