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Opinions of Thursday, 2 July 2020

Columnist: Solace Esi Amanka

Prioritizing reproductive health and gender equality for a better Ghana

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In 1968, a group of world leaders proclaimed that the public had a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children. As a result, in 1989, World Population Day was established by the Governing Council of the United National Development Programme as an outgrowth of the Day of Five Billion which was observed on 11th July, 1987.

This initiative was necessary to generate awareness among public about the population issues such as family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health, human rights, environment and its impact on development and the impact they have on development and environment.

Interestingly, approximately 83 million people are being added to the world’s population every year. Hence, it is expected that by 2030, World population would hit a whopping 8.6 billion, and 9.8 billion by 2050. The World Population Day (WPD) has been marked in Ghana with a call on the government to make a conscious effort to make family planning available and accessible to people of reproductive age, particularly women and adolescent girls.

Last year’s celebration being the 30th year running in Ghana’s participation of the day pays tribute to the landmark International Conference on Population and Development which took place in 1994 in Cairo. This year’s global theme “ICPD at 25: Accelerating the Promise” offers countries signatory to the ICPD Programme of Action (PoA) including Ghana, the perfect opportunity to review the achievements and challenges of the 25 years’ journey of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

In the case of Ghana, a National theme, “Reproductive Health and Gender Equality for Sustainable Development” has been adopted to enable us reflect as a country how far we have come in terms of upholding the three (3) key ideals of the ICPD PoA namely human rights, health & wellbeing and sexual and reproductive health. This, according to the Executive Director of the National Population Council (NPC), Dr Leticia Adelaide Appiah, would yield socio-economic gains that could propel the country’s development forward.

According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Sustainable Development 2030 agenda is the world’s blueprint for a better future for all on a healthy planet. On World Population Day it is recognized that this mission is closely interrelated with demographic trends including population growth, ageing, migration and urbanization.

Besides, World Population Day focuses on the importance of reproductive health and how it affects overall growth and development plans and programmes. Population issues include family planning, gender equality, child marriage, human rights, right to health, baby’s health etc. This programme basically focuses on comprehensive reproductive health care including family planning, safe pregnancy, childbirth services, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Last year’s World Population Day celebration was held at Mantse Agbonaa in Accra on Thursday, 11th July 2019 which kicked off with a float through the principal streets of Ga Mashie, Accra featuring the National Population Council and its partners accompanied by school children. Various messages on family planning, personal hygiene, healthy living among others were disseminated to the public to create awareness on the need for gender equality and reproductive health issues.

The mayor of Accra Metropolitan Assembly, Honourable Mohammed Nii Adjei Sowah, delivered the keynote address indicating that WPD celebrations aims to focus on the need to accelerate the promise of meeting the goals of ICPD and other global and regional development agenda like SDGs and AU Agenda 2063.

According to him, the year’s celebration calls on all stakeholders to strive to meet the reproductive health rights and needs of individuals and also put in place measures to bridge the gender equality gap existing in the country.

He added that, in spite of the progress made by Ghana after 25 years of the ICPD, maternal deaths were still high, unmet need for family planning was still on the rise while gender violence was still prevalent.

Hon. Nii Adjei Sowah reiterated that these issues were what was considered as the ‘unfinished business’ that Ghana was supposed to address if it was to meet the goals of the ICPD and other development agenda commitments like the SDGs and AU Agenda 2063.

Furthermore, the Executive Director of NPC, Dr. Leticia Adelaide Appiah made it known that for any country to make gains in the field of population and health there was the need to expand reproductive health rights and services to reach every individual in the country.

According to her, this can only be possible if stakeholders increased their efforts and adapted tried and tested strategies like the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) which levelled the playing ground in terms of access to polio vaccination and was effective in reaching all and sundry including hard-to-reach areas with the polio vaccine.

She indicated that today, polio has been eradicated in all but three countries worldwide. As such there was the need for stakeholders to consider using this approach in the delivery of reproductive health information and services since the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) had massive support from both international and national stakeholders and was delivered in a well-coordinated and equitable manner all in a bid to safeguard individuals’ right to health.

Dr. Appiah, therefore, called on all stakeholders to formulate policies and programmes which would tackle poverty and inequality in society since these are the main issues that limit people’s access to SRH information and services.

When issues relating to poverty and inequality are dealt with, we would have a world where no one is left behind thus pave the way for unprecedented economic development due to the presence of a healthy and vibrant human populace. She established that stakeholders are to act swiftly in initiating change in the area of reproductive health and gender equality since it affects Ghana’s chances of meeting set goals in international and regional development agenda such as the SDGs and the Africa Union Agenda 2063, ‘the Africa We Want’.

More so, the representative of the Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development laid emphasis on women and girls because they suffer all kinds of sexual abuse and gender discrimination in societies. Women empowerment, investment in education, quality and accessible health care delivery for women and girls are essential to promote a healthy living and bring forth healthy offspring.

It is therefore important to uphold women’s rights to reproductive health and some cultural practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), early child marriage abolished from our societies. According to him, the Parliamentary Caucus on Population and Development will help the National Population Council (N.P.C) to address issues on Reproductive Health and Gender Equality for a sustainable development.

Again, Ms. Anne Coolen, the Country Director of Marie Stopes International Ghana, reiterated that, there is unfinished business when it comes to population issues. Equality means ensuring that people have equal opportunities to make the most out of their lives and talents. As such gender equality is a pre-condition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

However, most West African government lack the commitment towards reducing inequality as women and girls are the most affected. This is as a result of the lack of commitment to funding of public services such as investment in health care, and education by most governments. She bemoaned the inadequate contribution of the government of Ghana towards health care financing since the Abuja declaration in 2001 which Ghana has agreed to make a commitment of 15 percent of annual budget to health.

She continued by indicating that, in 2017, the total budgetary allocation to health was under 8 percent of which public health received only 4 percent which includes family planning and reproductive health. In as much as Ghana has good policy on family planning, little allocation of resources is being made towards its implementation thus, investment in sexual and reproductive health is a major tool for sustainable development. She then said that, Marie Stopes International Ghana will continue to support NPC and its partners to make this a reality.

In Conclusion, the chair, Dr. Gladys Norley Ashitey informed all partners gathered that NPC was committed to strengthening its collaboration with the private sector so as to enable it execute its mandate as the lead coordinating agency for all population programmes in the country.

It would be of great benefit to the nation if various partners strive to assist the NPC to meet its targets. The success story of EPI shows that with the right tools backed with commitment there was the chance that we will have a world where everyone’s right to reproductive health information and services is upheld and prioritized regardless of location, economic status or background.