STRASBOURG, France — Lawmakers from around the world today called for greater action by countries to “defend the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all individuals” at a conference here. Over 130 parliamentarians and ministers from 90 countries reaffirmed their responsibility to uphold the right of individuals to decide the number and spacing of their children, to empower women and to eliminate all forms of violence against them.
The two-day meeting focused on lawmakers’ roles in implementing the 20-year action plan adopted by 179 governments at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The plan called for universal access to reproductive health services and a sharp reduction in maternal deaths by 2015.
Progress in meeting Cairo goals has been slow and uneven. Parliamentarians agreed they have a significant role to play in accelerating progress by mobilizing funds and enacting and enforcing legislation on population and reproductive health issues.
Worldwide, one third of all pregnant women receive no health care during pregnancy and 60 per cent of all deliveries take place outside of health facilities. Poverty dramatically increases the chance of maternal death. The lifetime risk of a woman dying in pregnancy or childbirth in West Africa is 1 in 12, compared to 1 in 2,800 in developed regions.
“For many women, pregnancy in developing countries is still a death sentence,” said Agnes van Ardenne, Minister for Development Cooperation, the Netherlands.
Today, over 38 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, yet fewer than 20 per cent of people at high risk of infection have access to proven prevention interventions. If dramatically scaled up, these interventions could avert an estimated 29-45 million new infections by 2010.
“In Kenya, access to reproductive health programmes is limited by the high cost of health care and falling international development assistance towards health programmes,” said Charity K. Ngilu, Kenyan Minister of Health.
At the closing, participants endorsed a strong set of commitments to advance the Cairo goals. They recognized that “the decision to defend these principles is the difference between a life with hope and opportunity and a life of despair and desperation. And worse, it is the difference between life and death itself.”
Examples of the commitments agreed upon today include calls to:
· Strive to devote at least 10 per cent of national development budgets and development assistance budgets for population and reproductive health programmes;
· Mobilize an additional $150 million a year for commodities needed by programmes supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation;
· Strengthen safe motherhood services, including the provision of maternal nutrition and antenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth and emergency obstetric care;
· Mount public education campaigns supporting women prior to, during and after pregnancy and childbirth;
· Promote and protect adolescents’ right to reproductive health information and services, strictly enforce laws on age at marriage, and work to eliminate disparities in how families and society treat and value boys and girls;
· Educate men about their roles and responsibilities with regard to reproductive health;
· Remedy the acute lack of qualified medical personnel in many countries due to insufficient training, death from HIV/AIDS and loss of staff to developed countries.
After a debate, participants agreed to propose that the United Nations add a ninth Millennium Development Goal: to make sexual and reproductive health accessible to all by 2015.
The lawmakers pledged to report regularly on progress through parliamentary groups and to meet again in two years in Bangkok.
The second International Parliamentarians’ Conference on the Implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action was hosted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and organized by the Inter-European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (IEPFPD) and UNFPA. Other supporters included: the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development, the Forum of African and Arab Parliamentarians on Population and Development, the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development and the Parliamentarians for Global Action.
UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs. Making motherhood safer for all women is at the heart of UNFPA’s mandate.