My ‘Writivism’ this year kicked off on a rather high note! Just the right momentum required to roll through the year! Well, In the course of last week, I got an opportunity to participate in a regional dialogue on ‘Ending corruption whilst advancing sexual reproductive health in Africa’. The interactive yet simmering dialogue, convened by Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), in Addis Ababa, brought together Ministers of Gender, young women organizations, United Nations and Africa Union Representatives from women organizations across Africa.
The dialogue which would in turn feed its outcomes to this years’ AU Summit, aimed at providing a platform for women’s rights organizations to interface with policy makers to discuss how to prioritize and finance for sexual reproductive health rights- with the necessary measures to prevent losing the funds through corruption. The dialogue therefore zeroed around the 30th Session of the AU Summit theme; “Winning the fight against corruption: A sustainable path to Africa’s transformation”
Malawi’s Minister Gender Affairs Hon Dr. Jean Kalilani led in the official opening of the dialogue. In her opening remarks, she said,
“ Corruption is destructive and retrogressive to the development of the African Region for it denies men, women and children equitable access to public services such as Sexual reproductive health rights which are core services to women and girls, if these services are unavailable or inaccessible women and girls suffer adverse impacts”
From the discussion, is was apparent that corruption has taken root in public health care institutions, paradoxically, institutions mandated with improving and preserving lives. Without a doubt, there is an urgent need to address such an issue at the helm of millions of lives across Africa.
Public health practitioners and organizations use power and influence to self enrich at the expense of patients. Corrupt activities include bribery, theft, nepotism, kickbacks, embezzlement, bureaucratic activities and misinformation.
Examples shared among the Participants during the dialogue included;
• Charging of services where services are to be procured freely
• Charging exorbitantly
• Referring patients at public hospitals to privately owned (by doctors) clinics
• Sexual exploitation
• Drug and pharmaceutical cartels within the public health system
• Failing to provide information about Sexual Reproductive Health Services
In these instances, patients are likely to lose lives at the hands of health care providers. Infant mortalities, maternal mortalities,obstructive labor and pregnancy related complications are bound to occur.
Dinah Musindarwezo, Executive Director FEMNET, urged civil society organizations to actively engage policy makers to prioritize focus on sexual reproductive health and ensure that financing of the same is given utmost attention.
1st panelist, Esther Kimani, Program Officer Trust for Indigenous Culture Health (TICAH) suggested for gender responsive budgeting which would in turn increase budget allocation to SRHR programs. She however said that this can only be achieved if women get involved in the budgetary allocation processes.
“Preventing health sector corruption is a complex and difficult task, however audits and accountability should be spearheaded by special units within governments to expose corruption. Anti- corruption laws and regulations need to be enforced and culprits, investigated and expedited” Pointed out Second Panelist, Hanatu Kabbah Program Officer IPAs
Paticipants agreed that policy makers should engage local and traditional leaders who are popularly misguided about sexual reproductive health services. Religious leaders too need to be involved in policy formulation for they have power to disseminate information and power to provide guidance relating to sexual reproductive health rights, to a critical mass.
Additionally, Young people need to actively involve themselves in development of policies to bargain for better budgetary allocations, to provide knowledge on SRH issues that affect them and thereby provide guidance on the way forward.
There is need for governments through responsible ministries to raise awareness about SRHR through education programs in schools and learning institutions. Proper women/youth friendly centers that attend to SRH queries need to be set up. Moreover, there is need to collect concrete data that will inform decision making.
During her speech, Hon. Dr. Kalilani pointed out that her government , Malawi has ratified and domesticated various regional instruments that give SRH a priority and that advocacy should be enhanced to encourage other governments that have not yet ratified to the conventions such as the Maputo Protocol to do so as a commitment to enhancing SRHR for girls and women.
SRHR are related to many aspects including girl child education. Girl Child education is negatively affected by harmful traditional practices, FGM, gender based violence and child marriage. Effective, affirmative provision of sexual and health rights interventions will have a ripple effect across Africa nations.
Lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services contributes to gender inequalities, discrimination, violence and disempowerment of girls and women!
It is estimated that Africa is losing more than USD50bn every year as governments and multinationals companies engage in criminal activities thereby hampering development projects and denying citizens access to crucial resources.
FEMNET, through its most recent press release to the AU has urged for resources lost through corruption to be recovered in Anti-Corruption efforts to replenish the gaps on provision of health care services, education and the establishment of infrastructure to improve the quality of life for its people.
Such recommendations will spearhead for accountable, affordable, sustainable, quality and available sexual reproductive health services across Africa!