Rethink reproductive health strategies, African states urged
Rumbidzayi Zinyuke in Johannesburg, South Africa
East and Southern African Governments have been encouraged to realign their strategies and interventions towards maintaining the momentum gained in improving the sexual reproductive health and rights of their populations in the face of dwindling financial resources.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerability of marginalised populations in all their diversity, realigned funding priorities and has led to a regression in progress in sexual reproductive health interventions achieved over the years.
This week, more than 150 delegates from 18 countries in East and Southern Africa are meeting in South Africa to reflect on some of the challenges that have been experienced in the movements dealing with sexual reproductive health and rights over the past years as well as to rekindle avenues of collaboration in order to redefine the priorities and focus on the direction needed for the movement to regain traction.
The three-day regional SRHR Symposium, which was hosted by the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), brought together civil society organisations, legislators, sexual reproductive health and rights activists and practitioners among others to share interventions that could strengthen this area.
Speaking at the official opening of the programme yesterday, SADC Parliamentary Forum secretary general Ms Boemo Sekgoma said the sexual reproductive health and rights landscape across the world was evolving hence countries in East and Southern Africa needed to also come up with policies that would keep up and ensure no one is left behind.
“Organisations consistently change or reform, and once a reform is conducted, there is a need to quickly shift to other advocacy priorities to keep the overall sexual and reproductive health momentum alive. We also need to take into cognisance that Covid-19 in the past two years suddenly caused an urgent need for countries to consolidate their frameworks for gender based violence, there is need for civil society to also do work by coming up with interventions in this regard,” she said.
There was a need for continuous sexual education campaigns in parallel with other issues such as informed consent during medical treatment or freedom of choice with regards to partners to always be on the radar of all interventions.
Ms Sekgoma said the recent passage of Cyclone Freddy in a number of countries including Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique had also put in the forefront how women and young girls were disproportionately affected by climate change.
Several systemic and structural barriers to universal access to sexual reproductive health and rights in southern and eastern Africa also include poverty, violence, human rights, and social, cultural, and religious norms.
ARASA executive director Dra Ntombi Muchuchuti said while Covid had disrupted the allocation of resources as well as the work that was underway, it had forced Governments and organisations to learn to work in a new way.
“For example we had a very good three year sexual reproductive health and rights programme but unfortunately almost two of those years went unused because of Covid and this makes it difficult to assess results.
During Covid season, every funding was aligned to responding to the state of emergency and when we tried to recover from that there was conflict in Russia and everything was directed there. We have been trying to engage donor partners to say there has to be development allocation of funds where we are not taken by surprise and money is realigned. We need to be proactive and not reactive,” she said.
UNFPA 2gether 4SRHR East and Southern Africa regional office programme manager Mr Richard Delate said Governments now needed to unlock domestic funding to ensure continuity of sexual reproductive health and rights services.
“Covid 19 has made Ministries and Presidents understand the impact of poor health on development. When you have a shutdown like what occurred, the economic effects of that on the lives of people and on the country as a whole is devastating. What Covid-19 has taught us is how we now strengthen domestic investment in health and sexual reproductive health and rights,” he said.
Mr Delate said the UNFPA had been working on developing investment case studies looking at why it made sense for governments to invest in sexual reproductive health and rights.
“We have also been looking at doing sexual reproductive health and rights in UHC which is ensuring that SRHR is embedded in the financial instruments like the national health insurance schemes minimum benefits packages so that people can benefit and can exercise their rights.
“The UN is also looking at how to strengthen access to sexual reproductive health and rights in the context of the primary health care system because that is ultimately the entry point for many people,” he added.