MAPUTO, Mozambique — Ministers of health and delegates from 48 African countries meeting here today unanimously agreed that the right to health is under serious threat in Africa, and that poor sexual and reproductive health is a leading killer.
To address this problem, participants in the two-day ministerial conference, which was preceded by a three-day experts’ meeting, adopted a plan of action to ensure universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services throughout the continent.
The plan recommends a number of measures, including integrating HIV/AIDS services into sexual and reproductive health and rights; promoting family planning as a crucial factor in attaining the Millennium Development Goals; supporting the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents and young people as a key SRH component; addressing unsafe abortion through family planning; delivering quality and affordable health services to promote safe motherhood, child survival, and maternal, newborn and child health; and adopting strategies that would ensure reproductive health commodity security.
In her address at the conference, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, said, “Sexual and reproductive health is a human right, and denying any human being access to this right, including young people, is a challenge to their humanity.’’
Two in three Africans have no access to essential services, such as family planning, maternal health care, and HIV prevention and treatment. As a result, some 700 African women die each day from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal death ratios in Africa are estimated to be between 500 and 1500 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to 5 to 10 in the developed countries.
And yet, it is not all a bleak picture emerging from Africa. The causes of maternal death and morbidity are well known, and are mostly preventable and treatable. Progress, according to Ms. Obaid, is being made in various areas of SRH in Africa, including in the reduction in HIV infection rates, increased availability of reproductive health commodities, and the reduction in maternal deaths.
Ms. Obaid cautioned, however, that at the current rate of progress, Africa would not achieve its goals. “We are aware that the real difference will be made at country level and in communities,” she said, “when health clinics and hospitals are staffed with professionals who provide quality care, and are equipped with the necessary drugs and supplies.”
Ms. Obaid also urged participants at the Maputo conference to breathe life into the Africa Policy Framework for the Promotion of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services by ensuring that adequate resources are generated and re-allocated to SRH.
The Framework, developed by the African Union in collaboration with UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, was adopted at the Second Session of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Health in Gaborone, Botswana, in 2005. Today’s plan of action is designed to put the Framework into action.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
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