Variegated Picture of Sexual Reproductive Health

A CHEQUERED picture is emerging as a baseline survey, ahead of a programme meant to strengthen the capacity of SADC national parliaments to respond to sexual reproductive health rights issues in parts of the region, nears completion.

Commissioned by the SADC Parliamentary Forum through its Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, HIV-AIDS and Governance Programme (SRHR, HA amp G), the survey is a forerunner to a four-year programme funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

University of KwaZulu-Natal’s professor Timothy Quinlan, who works for the Health Economics and HIV-AIDS Research Division (HEARD), is the lead researcher of the team in Tanzania and Zimbabwe over the next two weeks.

The researchers have already made surveys with respect to SRHR, HA amp G issues in the Seychelles, Lesotho, Mauritius, and Zambia. They are now in Tanzania having arrived on Sunday 18 January and will be in that country until tomorrow (22 January).

They are scheduled to proceed to Zimbabwe on 26 January. Expectations are that they will also travel to Angola. While in those countries, the researchers are scheduled to pay courtesy calls on the speakers of parliament before interacting with various stakeholders.

The SADC region faces a plethora of SRHR-related challenges. According to Quinlan, some SADC countries need to do more on maternal and child health as well as sexual and reproductive health beyond 2015, the end date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“There are countries (in the region) in which it is clear that a lot of the health indicators for women have actually deteriorated,” Quinlan said before heading to Tanzania.

He, however, conceded that there had been some general improvements and better services but maternal deaths and the deaths of children remain ‘extraordinarily high’ yet they are preventable.

Quinlan’s view is that, if empowered, SADC women parliamentarians can become effective aocates for ensuring improvement in policy, legislation and, more importantly, implementation of targeted interventions to improve SRHR-related and other issues.

He said the ongoing baseline survey was a brilliant idea as it would enable the SADC PF to have a clear understanding of what is feasible as it implements the SRHR, HA amp G programme.

“What is feasible or not varies hugely across each country. We can’t have one common blueprint. We can work out a general plan to inform the rest of the programme but we have to be very context-sensitive to different situations in each country.”

It is still early days and data is still being collected. However Quinlan says that it is already becoming clear that some countries are grappling with very country-specific challenges, putting paid to the fallacy that there can be a silver bullet or one-size-fits-all as countries work towards improved access to SRHR, HA amp G information and services.

“For example, Seychelles and Mauritius don’t have a problem with maternal and child health care. In those countries there is access to services. Their issues are problems related to drug use. In some instances people go into the sex trade to pay for their drugs. HIV then becomes a major challenge among drug users.”

Another odd issue for Seychelles is that with respect to gender issues, teenage boys appear to be more in need of rescue than teenage girls and young women. In that country, how to keep boys in school and out of crime as well as getting young men to work are major challenges.

Countries such as Lesotho and Zambia are facing so-called common problems including high rates of maternal deaths, teenage pregnancies, co-infection of HIV and tuberculosis (TB), and gender-based violence coupled with poor access to services.

Through the baseline survey the researchers are keen to appreciate decision-making structures with respect to SRHR in the selected SADC countries with a view to strengthen legislation and aocacy by parliaments and governments. The ultimate objective, according to Quinlan, is to improve and increase access to SRHR, HA amp G services. Expectations are also that the survey would generate data that can be used in the monitoring and evaluation of the SADC PF’s SRHR, HA amp G programme over the next four years.

Reproductive health rights are essential to the realisation of a wide range of fundamental human rights. These rights include: life liberty and security health deciding the number and spacing of children consent to marriage and equality in marriage privacy being free from practices that harm women and girls and education and information.

In addition to holding focus group discussions with various stakeholders, the researchers have been poring over many documents in the selected countries. These have included votes and proceedings, Hansards capturing verbatim debates in parliaments, and motions and reports tabled in parliaments.

Key stakeholders that have been targeted during this survey included international partners, relevant government ministries, civil society organisations working on SRHR issues and members of parliaments. National law enforcement agencies, the media and prison officials have also been earmarked for interaction.

The SRHR, HA amp G programme will work closely with SADC-based women parliamentarians through the SADC PF’s Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (RWPC) to build their capacity to support SRHR, HA amp G issues.

The initial seven countries that participate in the first phase of the programme were selected on the basis of their parliaments’ willingness and expressed interest in championing SRHR, A amp G issues.

Quinlan says so far the baseline survey has gone well in the countries that have been covered.

“The programme can inform parliamentarians and provide them with appropriate information. It can do the publicity for them on health issues which remain major problems in Africa.”

Quinlan said some parliamentarians in the region appear not to be very well prepared to come on board, although this varies from country to country adding that the programme can change this.

At the end of the survey the researchers will analyse the data, and put the results into a language that is accessible to the various stakeholders.

Source : The Namibian