THE three day Regional Symposium on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR),has come to an end amidst growing calls for increased investment and creation of an enabling policy framework that allows for the smooth implementation of SRHR programs in the East and Southern African region (ESAR).
By Michael Gwarisa in Victoria Falls
The symposium was hosted by the Ministry of Health and Child Care and organized by UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO under the banner of the Joint UN Regional 2gether 4 SRHR Programme. Over 200 delegates from across 24 countries in the East and Southern African region (ESAR) attended the meeting physically in Victoria Falls while another 150 delegates attended the symposium via the Zoom virtual platform in the ESAR region.
Speaking during the closing ceremony, Elizabeth Harleman, the Head of Regional SRHR Team of Sweden said Sida would soon be assessing the new proposal for the 2Gether4SRHR initiative to see if they can fund the second phase of the program.
Through all of this, we must make sure that we live no one behind. After these three days, it is clear to me that the 2Gther4SRHR program is relevant across all our four strategic objectives. As we move forwards, as Sida, these three days have been extremely relevant for us.
“The next step for us now is that over the next few months, we will make an assessment of the new proposal for the new phase of the 2Gether4SRH proposal and hopefully next year, we will be in a position to take a decision on the next phase of the programme,” said Harleman.
In Zimbabwe, more than $10 million United States Dollars from 2018 to date has been invested in the programme.
“Sweden has developed a new regional SRHR strategy, a strategy that was developed together with all our partners and aims to align to the continental and regional normative frameworks. The priorities are increased respect for full enjoyment for SRHR for all, social norms that promote SRHR, straighten conditions for increased accountability, increased access to widespread interventions for SRHR.”
World Health Organisation in Africa (WHO-Afro) Public Health Officer, Ian Askew said countries in the African region need to step up and ensure adequate resources are allocated towards enhancing access to SRH services by the young people.
“Many governments don’t realise that investing in the youth and reproductive health today is as good as investing in their future. For this reason, so much emphasises has been put towards investing so much in young people,” said Askew.
He however added that while Africa has superb blueprint documents around SRHR, there was need to implement what’s in the documents so as to attain positive health outcomes for the young and future generations. He also said there is need to keep up the advocacy as well as building health systems resilience.
Dr Easter Muia, the Zimbabwe United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative said girls and women remain vulnerable and health emergencies and natural disasters increase their vulnerability.
“If you go around you find that girls as young as 14 and 15 are getting into the so called marriages. These are not even marriages but child abuse because they get into it not because they want to but they are forced into circumstances voluntarily and involuntarily. This even became evident during the COVID-19 period.
“Let me say it is not just in Zimbabwe but by just listening colleagues from other countries, it seems to be a trend around and this needs to be reversed urgently. We need an enabling policy environment. In other words, can we have policies that help to keep girls in school? We need to find out why girls are not staying in school. By allowing girls to stay in school, we give them room to mature and then they can become economically empowered in future,” said Dr Muia.
She added that girls aged 15 to 19 are six times more likely to contract HIV than the girls who are 25 and above and the region was heading into very dangerous sinking ground when it comes to HIV.
Meanwhile, Dr Marven Venge, the Director Family Health in the Ministry of Health and Childcare said there was need to engage all partners to ensure the full adoption and implementation of the ESA Ministerial Commitments is realised.
“Key issues that have come out from the symposium is the need to take a health systems approach as we strengthen SRH, HIV and Gender Based Violence (GBV) Integration. As we strengthen our systems, we also need to focus on straightening the primary healthcare system including community health
“Our young people from Zvandiri have shown us what can be achieved if we all give our young people a voice in the design and implementation of our health and SRHR programs. We have the ESA commitment that is currently running. There is now a need to engage all partners, young people, government, the UN, civil society and to make this commitment a reality for young people in each of the 23 countries,” said Venge.
He added that there was great need to align the legislations of the different countries with the SRHR programs. He also said it was impossible to move forward without innovation as the operating environment was becoming more complex with increased frequencies of natural disasters and emergencies.