DR. ARUN KASHYAP: Sexual And Reproductive Health Conference

Nov 28, 2014


• Honourable Fenton Ferguson, Minister, Ministry of Health
• Dr. Edward Greene, UN Special Envoy on AIDS for the Caribbean
• Dr. Sandra Knight, Chairman, National Family Planning Board-Sexual Health Agency
• Dr. Denise Chevannes-Vogel, Executive Director, National Family Planning Board
• Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen;
• A very good evening to all of you!

I am delighted to be here with you all today and would like express my appreciation to the Board of Governors of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) for this opportunity.

On behalf of the United Nations in Jamaica and as your partner, I wish to congratulate the Government and especially the Ministry of Health for expanding the mission of the National Family Planning Board through the incorporation of the National HIV Programme. As the combined National Family Planning Board and the Sexual Health Agency with the expanded mandate, it now cohesively communicates your commitment to pursue an integrated vision for health services delivery.
Two decades ago, in 1994, the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development emphasized that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right. It underscored that empowering women and girls is both the “rights” thing to do and one of the most reliable pathways to improving people’s well-being. The ICPD also committed to putting people’s rights and dignity at the heart of development, thereby making it clear that population is not about numbers, but people.

The comprehensive UNFPA led ICPD@20 review process mandated by General Assembly and undertaken by Member States earlier this year while highlighting significant achievements in reproductive health emphasized that these messages are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

The Government of Jamaica through its work on policy formulation and legislative reform and program implementation to achieve the ICPD commitments, has demonstrated the importance of investing in sexual and reproductive health services. The Government recognizes the need to ensure that all Jamaicans achieve safe sexual relationships -- free from violence and oppression; and allowing them to control their fertility with the freedom to decide if, when and how often to reproduce and without adverse or grievous consequences. This would lead to greater social and economic development for all Jamaicans. Research shows that a well-delivered, integrated sex education program along with equal access to family planning services results in improved population dynamics, which in turn has a positive multiplier effect on human development and the well-being of all people.

The UNFPA State of World Population 2014 Report - The Power of 1.8 Billion: Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future, released earlier this week in Jamaica, calls for investments in young people to realize the potential that resides within them. While ninety percent of the world’s record 1.8 billion young people – those between ages 10 and 24 – live in developing countries, 46% of the population in Jamaica is under 24 years. The report recommends that with proper investment in their education, health - including sexual and reproductive health, human rights and welfare, young people could become the drivers of economic and social development.

This inaugural 2014 Conference on Sexual and Reproductive Health therefore is very timely. It is well positioned to evaluate progress to-date, refine program strategies in terms of evolving and unmet needs; and significantly as the Member States move towards achieving an agreed upon universal Sustainable Development Goals Post 2015 next year. This is also a terrific opportunity to share knowledge and experiences and seek creative opportunities for refining policy review and formulation and improved programme delivery.

The outcome of the Post 2015 consultations has positioned sexual and reproductive health rights among the priorities and has called for greater attention to these topics of health. The consultation has emphasized the continuation and acceleration of the Health agenda of the MDGs placing access to sexual and reproductive health services at the same level with reduced maternal mortality, decreased incidence, prevalence and mortality of AIDS, TB and malaria as well as improved child survival. It also demonstrates that the envisioned policy and institutional framework in Jamaica that relates sexual and reproductive rights with the fight against HIV is consistent with the global recommendation.

As we welcome the theme of today’s conference - “Repositioning sexual and reproductive health for the future”, it would be useful to reflect on Jamaica’s achievements of the Millennium Development Goals and the challenges yet to be overcome as it prepares for Post 2015 development.

While Jamaica has achieved its targets in Poverty Eradication, Education and HIV, the two crucial health targets of Child Mortality and Maternal Health continue to lag. It is the same for targets relating to Gender Equality and Environmental Sustainability.

Although 20% reduction in maternal mortality rate has been achieved in Jamaica in the last 14 years, it has to catch up a lot to reach the 75% mortality reduction rate targeted for 2015. This is a part of an alarming and global challenge: Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

Discriminatory laws, practices and attitudes continue to keep women and young people, particularly adolescent girls, from accessing sexual and reproductive health services, including contraception, and realizing their reproductive rights. People living with disabilities, indigenous people, racial and ethnic minorities, and other groups continue to face discrimination. Girls are also an at risk group who face challenges including sexual violence, interruption of their education due to adolescent pregnancy. The recent announcement by UN Population Fund of the approval by the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) of a Strategy and Plan (developed in partnership with CARICOM) to reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies in each country of the English- and Dutch speaking Caribbean by at least 20 %, over the five year period 2014 – 2019 is therefore especially welcomed. This of course has to move in direct correlation with achieving progress in gender equality and elimination of all kinds of violence against women. Equally importantly, issues such as maternal mortality and morbidity that were once considered simply as public health issues have to be increasingly understood as human rights challenges and issues of social justice.

The ongoing process in Parliament of amending the Sexual Offences Act, 2009 is fostering social discussion around key themes of sexual and reproductive health rights and gender equality. It not only brings to the fore the need to achieve a balance between criminalization and education and prevention measures but also underscores the need to make critical information, counselling and health services available for and accessible by the young people. Adverse social practices that affect sexual and reproductive health, population dynamics and definitely social development for women and men have to be analytically addressed to ensure that discrimination, stigma and marginalization do not hamper progress in achieving the health related MDGs and advancing the post 2015 Agenda.

The United Nations in Jamaica led by the UN Population Fund in cooperation with UNAIDS, UNICEF, WHO-PAHO and UNDP continue to provide support through global guidelines and best practices. The work positions sexual and reproductive health and rights at the centre of development and emphasizes capacity development at human, institutional and system-wide levels, and self-empowerment.

The expanded National Family Planning Board - Sexual Health Agency has to build upon its achievements and play a key role in bridging the gap between the commitments made and actions taken to ensure the full enjoyment of reproductive rights by all women and girls in Jamaica. Advocacy and evidence-based planning tools like the Reproductive Health Survey and the Marge Roper services and public education campaigns can significantly contribute its mandate and “enable individuals to realise their Reproductive Health intentions through an integrated system of healthcare, that provides high quality Family Planning services and information on a range of contraceptive methods, to the exclusion of no person regardless of his or her socio-economic background."

We look forward to partnering with the NFPB for its continued advocacy and work in ensuring a post-2015 agenda that is firmly grounded in human rights and dignity of all. The United Nations in Jamaica stands ready to support the government, its partners and stakeholders in implementing and achieving the country’s development goals and honoring international commitments.

As we make progress to finalize the sustainable development goals, let us also recommit ourselves to work together to advance and protect the rights of women and girls to determine the timing and spacing of their pregnancies, to enjoy safe motherhood and childbirth and to live a life of dignity and respect. Ensuring that every pregnancy in Jamaica is wanted, every child birth is safe, and we are able to realize every young person’s potential will make a significant contribution to achieving Vision 2030-Jamaica. In so doing we will also make Jamaica a great place to live, work, raise families and do business. Thank you!

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