The vice president and minister of Women's Affairs has revealed that the maternal mortality ratio in The Gambia has declined from 1050 to 730 per 100,000 live births between 1990 and 2001.
Her Excellency Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy also said the government has over the years recorded some significant achievements in this area and that the under-five and the infant mortality rates have reduced from 135 and 84 to 99 and 75 per 1000 live births respectively.
The VP was speaking Monday at the opening of events commemorating the World Population Day at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi. Organised by the National Population Commission Secretariat (NPCS), in collaboration with the United Nations Fund for Population Affairs (UNFPA), the World Population Day on the theme: 'Universal Access to Reproductive Health', is an annual event observed on a specific date mainly, July 11.
This year's celebration focuses attention on the urgency and importance of population and reproductive health, particularly in development context with a view to addressing the issue. The daylong forum provided participants the platform to deal with wide-range of paramount issues with regard to reproductive health, such as the need to increase access to reproductive health in the country with a view to tackling challenges as well as the issue of Islam in relation to family planning, among a host of others.
The vice president told the gathering that these achievements registered by The Gambia are as a result of a combination of factors that included the prioritisation of health on government's development agenda. "This is manifested among other things by the expansion of health services delivery points across the country," she said, adding that over 85% of the population is within five kilometers of a primary health care post. She also cited some provisions made by the government in the areas of health services, free maternal and child health services and child health including immunisation, birth registration and hospitalisation among others.
VP Njie-Saidy also noted that the First Lady's 'Operation Save A Baby' initiative has helped to contribute to newborn health. "The government with support of development partners like the UNFPA continues to implement programmes aimed at protecting and promoting the rights of young to reproductive health education, information and care inline with our commitment to the ICPD programme of action," she said, adding that the empowerment of women particularly those in the rural areas is central in poverty and hunger eradication development and other challenges.
The vice president gave an overview of the concept of reproductive health, saying it stands for as enunciated in the international conference on population development. She noted that reproductive health and other related health addresses the reproductive processes, functions and systems at all stages of life.
"Reproductive health therefore implies that people have the capability to reproduce and freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this, are the rights of men and women to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and appropriate contraceptive methods of their choice and the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go through safe pregnancy and deliver ultimately having healthy infants," she explained.
On her part, Chinwe Dike, the UNDP resident representative and coordinator of the UN system in The Gambiasaid giving birth is one of the most joyous moments in a woman's life, but lamented that this very process takes the life of so many women worldwide."Every day, some 800 women die in pregnancy or child birth and from complications that are very often preventable.And for every woman who dies, around 20 more suffer debilitating childbirth injuries such as obstetrics fistula," she stated.
She added: "Working for the survival and the wellbeing of women and girls is a human right, and in order to take full advantage of women's full potentials in national development, family planning is not only essential, but a basic human right. However, it remains meaningless unless individuals and couples have access to contraceptives, information and services to enable them to exercise that right."
Dike also dilated on the special needs of young people particularly adolescent girls, saying that pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are the major cause of death among girls from 10-19 years old in most developing countries today. She further lamented that the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections are among young people aged 15-24.
"The needs and human rights of these young people must be urgently addressed.Reproductive health is at the very heart of development and crucial to deliver the UNFPA vision, which is a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every child birth is safe, and every young person's potential is fulfilled," added.
Chinwe further reaffirmed UNFPA's commitment to work with all of its partners to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health, especially voluntary family planning, recognised as a key element of the new international development agenda after 2015, and of all development and poverty reduction plans and policies.
She added: "We were commemorating World Population Day on July 11 and it was no coincidence that the government of UK, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNFPA and other partners hosted a groundbreaking summit in London.This summit aimed at mobilising global policy, financing, commodity, and service delivery commitments to support the rights of an additional 120 million women and girls in the world's poorest countries to use contraceptive information, services and supplies, without coercion or discrimination 2020."
Saikou Tarawally, the director of Population Affairs said millions of women who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning and many die every day in the process of giving birth. He further stated that a huge number of young people entering their reproductive years are often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves.