Coordination key to improving  sexual reproductive health Dr Ntombi Muchuchuti, ARASA executive director

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke-Health Buzz

Zimbabwe, like many other developing nations, has made significant strides towards the realisation of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights over the past decades.

Although a lot still needs to be done to attain universal coverage, the steps taken have made a positive impact in the lives of many women and girls.

Progress has definitely been made in increasing access to family planning with domestic funding for this rising within the national health budget from 1,7 percent in 2013 to 2,4 percent in 2022.

Meanwhile, the maternal mortality ratio declined from 651 per 100 000 live births in 2015, to 362 per 100 000 live births, in 2022.

By all accounts, we cannot dispute the good work that has been done by the Government and its partners to get to where we are now.

But there is still a long way to go.

According to a national adolescent pregnancy study conducted by the Government in partnership with the UNFPA, Unicef and Unesco last year, about 21 percent of all 1,7 million pregnancies that were recorded  in Zimbabwe between 2019 and 2022 were among young people aged between 10 to 19 years. This means that a staggering 350 000 young girls fell pregnant within the three-year time frame!

The maternal mortality rate is also still way too high since it means five women die every day during childbirth.

And 25 percent to 30 percent of those women who are dying while giving birth are women of young age.

It therefore means the country has a lot of work to do before SRH services reach optimal levels.

While we cannot deny the work, there has been a drawback.

Currently, the landscape of SRHR initiatives in Zimbabwe is fragmented, with various organisations operating in isolation, overlapping efforts, and sometimes duplicating resources. 

This lack of coordination has led to inefficient use of funding, limited reach, and ultimately, slower progress.

This lack of coordination, according to experts, has been detrimental in the achievement of some goals towards improving access to SRH services.

In a significant move for the SRHR movement in Zimbabwe, a coalition of organisations recently came together to establish a national advocacy cohort that is aimed at uniting diverse voices and expertise to amplify their collective impact.

The advocacy cohort, which is being spearheaded by the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), with support from the AIDS and Rights Alliance of Southern Africa (ARASA), will serve as a platform for knowledge sharing and collaboration between various SRHR movements.

By fostering open communication and shared insights, the group seeks to empower each movement to leverage its strengths and develop a unified message.

One of the significant benefits of establishing a cohort is the opportunity to share expertise and foster knowledge exchange among the diverse organisations.

Collaboration between healthcare professionals, NGOs, community-based groups, and policymakers is expected to promote synergy and innovation. 

Working together, these organisations can develop evidence-based strategies, share best practices, and collectively address the multifaceted challenges of SRHR in Zimbabwe.

Speaking at a Zimbabwe advocacy cohort coordination co-creation meeting held in Harare recently, SRC executive director Ms Musa Sibindi concurred that the trajectory of various social movements to work in silos was not effective as it sometimes diluted the collective voice behind one cause.

Ms Musa Sibindi, SRC executive director

“Half the time, I have also realised, in the development sector, we are working towards the same thing. Probably what is seemingly different is how we are naming or framing these issues. 

Some will seek to say we are working in the HIV movement, others will say we are working on safe abortion, or on adolescent issues, but if you look at it, we are all pushing for social justice. 

“We are really pushing for positive development outcomes, we just want a just society where the rights of everyone or every citizen are respected, distribution of resources and greater access to sexual reproductive health rights for everyone in Zimbabwe,” she said.

She said the cohort advocacy would allow the movements to work in solidarity.

This collaboration, which is piloting in Zimbabwe, will go up from national to regional level where it is envisaged that other national movements in Southern Africa will come together and ask the fundamental question: “What is this biggest priority we want to push within our various sectors of Government?”

ARASA executive director Dr Ntombi Muchuchuti said progress towards the implementation of the regional and international policies regarding SRHR has for long been hampered by the diverse gaps that exist in many countries.

“As countries, if we want to implement SHRH policies and the legal instruments that we set collectively, we need to collaborate in order for us to be our brothers’ keepers. If we are not collaborating and everyone is doing what they can when they can, it’s impossible to collectively realise the success together,” she said.

She said Zimbabwe had done a lot in terms of progressive implementation of the policies and strengthening other sectors that could improve the access to sexual and reproductive health, but there was still a lot to be done.

Despite such good work in addressing challenges women and girls face, Dr Muchuchuti says men and other communities such as people with disability, the LGBTI communities and other diverse communities were not part of the discussion.

“We realised that a lot is being done, but someone is doing something some way and another person is doing the same thing some way. 

“So to start and to bring people together collectively, to collaborate and to speak. We are beginning to talk to each other, not to talk about each other. When we start to talk to each other, then we are ready to bring solutions,” she added.

This cohort of organisations can definitely create a united voice to champion the cause of sexual reproductive health at both national and international levels.

Because coordinated advocacy efforts will enhance the effectiveness of lobbying for progressive policies and mobilising resources. 

By speaking in unison, they can have a stronger impact on decision-makers, ensuring that SRHR is given the priority it deserves in Zimbabwe’s national agenda.

By including policy makers in the cohort, it is a sure way to ensure that the country does make good on its commitments.

Former Parliamentary portfolio committee on Health chairperson Dr Ruth Labode says it is about time all stakeholders within the SRHR movement begin to speak with one voice.

Dr Ruth Labode, former Parliamentary portfolio committee on Health chairperson

“When I was in Parliament, it was a nightmare because you would get about eight different civil society organisations inviting the same committee to different meetings to discuss access to health services. 

“So I think if somehow we can get a way of collaborating and deciding on priorities, and then galvanising our resources, they will stretch. But most importantly, one battle at a time. And not everybody is trying to push what is theirs,” she said.

Coordinated efforts through a cohort can lead to enhanced service provision and by pooling resources and expertise, they could establish comprehensive clinics, build capacity through training, offer counselling services, and provide access to contraceptives and family planning services. 

These initiatives will help reach marginalised populations, including rural communities, where access to SRHR services remains relatively limited.

Addressing social, cultural, and economic factors that hinder progress in this field through a more coordinated approach can lay the foundation for long-term change. 

By harnessing collective expertise and resources, we can pave the way for a brighter future where sexual reproductive health and rights are prioritised and respected by all.

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