By CHARITY MOONGA –
DATA shows that if all women in developing countries with an unmet need for family planning were able to use modern methods, an additional 35 million abortions and 76,000 maternal deaths would be prevented every year.
It is with this background that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the National Assembly in Zambia, UKaid and the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) over the weekend held a strategic engagement with Members of Parliament (MPs) to promote Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRH and R) issues.
The strategic engagement was held with MPs belonging to parliamentary committees of Health, Gender, Youth, and Financing.
The overall objective of the meeting was to reflect on prior discussions held with the MPs through various oversight, law making, budgetary, representational and outreach actions and further engagements in 2018 and beyond.
It was noted that global, continental and national evidence confirms that universal access to sexual reproductive health services requires strong leadership, national ownership, multi-sectoral coordination, strategic partnerships as well as sustainable financing.
In the health sector, diminishing domestic financing, weak supply chain management systems, low human resource capacity and socio-cultural barriers had continued to hurt equitable access and utilization.
The partners realised that sustaining the gains and accelerating efforts to reduce preventable maternal, neo-natal and child mortality remained a major development challenge.
In the scenario, the role of parliament was said to be critical.
UNFPA Deputy Representative Chinwe Ogbonna said her organisation appreciated the role of MPs in issues of SRH and R as a health issue, a development issue and a human rights issue.
Ms Ogbonna commended the National Assembly of Zambia and members of the Family Planning Technical Working Group for convening the meeting amidst the busy parliamentary schedule.
She said the UNFPA recognised Zambia’s commitments to advancing SRH and R outcomes of women and young people in the context of Vision 2030, 7th National Development Plan (7NDP), among others.
“The UNFPA recognizes contributory actions and the role of parliamentarians as powerful change agents in development,” she said
She said Shaping and Influencing 2018 Parliamentary Agenda in Zambia was part of collective efforts to advance SRH and R outcomes for women, young people and adolescents.
She explained that SRH and R, including family planning, could assist to realize Zambia’s ‘demographic dividend’.
“Family planning saves lives. Modern contraceptives prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions, and lower the incidence of death and disability related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth,” Ms Ogbonna said.
She further explained that family planning was essential for improving overall health and well-being.
“Women and girls who can make choices and control their fertility are better able to be educated, find decent work, and make free and informed decisions in all spheres of life. Their families and societies are better off financially,” she said.
Data also confirmed that for every additional dollar invested in contraception, the cost of pregnancy-related care will be reduced by US$2.22.
In addition, achieving universal access to quality sexual reproductive health services is estimated to yield returns of US$120 for every dollar invested.
There was need to identify and explore new opportunities and foster critical partnerships in promoting the SRH rights.
“Some of these actions, will include enacting inclusive laws, approving, appropriating and monitoring implementation of national budgets, ensuring oversight and accountability in implementation of policies and programmes; and holding Government and stakeholders accountable for delivery of development programs, while amplifying the voice of empowered citizens,” she said.
There was also need to strengthen legal frameworks that protect adolescent girls, including policy actions aimed at preventing teenage pregnancy and keeping girls in school.
It was also necessary to ensure appropriate authorities translate and enforce progressive laws such as the Anti GBV Act; Gender Equity and Equality Act and the Penal Code through interventions that safeguard and protect the health and well-being of women and girls.
There was further need to amplify the voices of women, young people and adolescents on critical development needs.
“UNFPA re-affirms its commitment to partnerships with the Republic of Zambia, including the National Assembly. Existing national frameworks provide an opportunity to sustain engagements in inclusive dialogues about Zambia’s collective future together,” Ms Ogbonna said.
She said MPs can play a leading role in the matter as was demonstrated at the meeting.
In opening the strategic meeting, National Assembly of Zambia Deputy Speaker Catherine Namugala said Parliament was one of the seven SADC PF member parliaments which were implementing the four year Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, HIV and AIDS Governance project.
Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles, Tanzania and Zimbabwe are the other countries taking part in the project.
The project is expected to realise the long term vision of achieving equitable access to sexual and reproductive health and related rights and HIV and AIDS services, including ensuring improved health and respect for human rights for women and girls in the SADC region.
Another key goal of the project is to build sustainable working relationships between parliaments on the one hand and cooperating partners, civil society and other stakeholders on the other.
It is hoped that such a relationship can outlive the project itself.
A national working group has since been formulated under the chairmanship of a Dr Christopher Kalila who is an MP.
The membership of the group is open to all cooperating partners, civil society organizations and other stakeholders working in the area of sexual and reproductive health rights, HIV and AIDS and governance.
Ms Namugala expressed happiness that the UNFPA had partnered with the Ministry of Health and the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) in strengthening the capacity of MPs in Sexual and Reproductive Health related issues and equip them with necessary information to address sustainable financing of reproductive health commodities.
“This is in the quest to ultimately enhance reproductive health commodity security and accelerate progress towards universal access to reproductive health targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS),” she said.
The initiative to hold the meeting was timely as it built on the efforts made so far to empower MPs committees to effectively perform their role.
“It will also link the members of the selected parliamentary committees to likeminded organizations which can offer them critical information and expertise whenever they need to draw upon such resources in the course of their work,” Ms Namugala said.
She called for adequate financing in the implementation of the project and urged parliamentarians to advocate for changes in certain policies and increase the budgetary allocations for programmes such as provision of sexual and reproductive health commodities.
Ms Namugala thanked the UNFPA, the Ministry of Health and PPAZ for coming up with the initiative as it benefitted the MPs.
Higher Education Minister Nkandu Luo said there is need to address SRH and R issues in the country urgently.
Chairperson of the parliamentary working group Dr Kalila said there was need for capacity building among MPs to ensure they championed SRH and R issues.
“It is us MPs who should drive this SRH and R programme because at the moment teen pregnancies are at 29 percent so this is just about us,” he said.
Earlier, PPAZ Executive Director Joanne Kamwale reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to work with named partners, as well as IPAS Zambia towards ending child marriages, encourage education, empower young people, reduce unsafe abortions and reduce incidences of unwanted pregnancies, among others.
With the involvement of Parliament, it is hoped that SRH and R will be enhanced in Zambia for the benefit of the country.