Windhoek — Each and every human being has a right to life and as such all efforts must be put in place to ensure equity of access to health including sexual health, says Dr Christine Kaseba Sata, the First Lady of Zambia.
Sata was speaking at the opening of the Fifth Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights that started in Windhoek yesterday. Sata, who is an obstetrician/gynaecologist by profession and the current chairperson of the Forum of African Ladies Against Breast and Cervical Cancer, reminisced how 22 years ago she almost became one of the statistics of maternal mortality, but because of her status as a doctor and wife of a politician, she was treated as a "special case".
"Surely, that's the way it ought to be for everyone. We are all special and there should be no discrimination on the basis of colour, sex and social standing in society," she emphasised, adding that it was unfortunate that not many African women are as fortunate.
"We continue to see increasing numbers of women with unwanted and unplanned pregnancies die at the hands of quacks or impostors.
"Day in and day out we hear of battered women struggling for their lives - yes, we have the misfortune of counting numbers of women and children dying because of their sexuality," stressed the First Lady of Zambia. She said the absence of rights relating to sexuality and reproduction has a huge impact on how people live and die, their physical security, health, education and social and economic status, among others.
She said that Africans have managed to bring sexuality in the open and on the agenda, but need to ask themselves what they can do differently to commit themselves and remove barriers to ensure that African women and girls access sexual and reproductive health.
The three-day Fifth Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights under the auspices of the Namibia Planned Parenthood Association (NPPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is being held at the Safari Hotel in Windhoek and started yesterday.
The conference is attended by 200 youths from 40 African countries. Patron of the NPPA and Namibian First Lady, Madam Penehupifo Pohamba said the debate on sexuality should be encouraged as the continent is rocked with teenage pregnancies, abortion and baby dumping.
Lucien Kouakou, Africa Regional Director for the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) said many actions have been implemented in promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, among them the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, but the path was "still long to realise expectations".
Bunmi Makinwa, Director of the United Nation's Population Fund (UNFPA), said African countries have reduced maternal deaths by 41 percent between 1990 to 2010, but the number of women dying from pregnancy related causes is around 165 000 a year.
He said that in particular, pregnancy is a threat to the lives of young girls who marry as teenagers and added that girls who give birth at 18 are more likely to suffer death or disability as opposed to those who postpone pregnancy.
"Young girls, married or not, need to know how to protect themselves against pregnancy that could kill them or cripple them," Makinwa said.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who officially opened the conference, said the continent needs to pay urgent attention to the promotion of safer conditions for sexual health and reproductive rights for women.
"This will go a long way towards making Africa a continent where sexual rights are understood and adequate education is provided to help reshape our understanding while building a shared sense of responsibility," he added.
Pohamba said that it was a source of great concern that Africa remains the hardest hit region in HIV/Aids prevalence, high maternal and child mortality and teenage pregnancies.
The president said this year in March he launched the Revised National Gender Policy, designed to guide government's approach to gender issues, which pays specific attention to the areas of reproductive health and HIV/Aids.
"One of the policy objectives is to improve women and men's health, including reproductive health," he said.