Experts are calling for the full adoption of sexual and reproductive health rights as an essential component of universal health coverage (UHC) programmes.
Speakers at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25), which started on Tuesday, noted that some groups in society continue to face various challenges in accessing quality healthcare and respect for their rights.
They said these rights include safe abortion and rights for people with varied sexual orientations, gender identities, sex appearances — including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people — young, unmarried and people living with disabilities.
The sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) experts said these groups are finding it hard to access healthcare, making it hard for the UHC agenda to be fully implemented.
They said SRHR is a human rights issue and that UHC should be looked at beyond the conventional healthcare.
“Universal Health Coverage means more than healthcare. SRHR is an essential part of health, away from tackling malaria, TB, HIV/Aids, cholera and all kinds of illnesses,” said Liberia’s Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor.
She said governments continue to deny young people their rights by not providing information about sexual and reproductive health.
“The substance of the debate is about the right of every woman to decide about her own body,” said Ms Gabriella Cueva, the president of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, adding that every country needs to have tailor-made policies on SRHR.
The experts argued that UHC provides a renewed opportunity to uphold these rights, despite objections from religious leaders, lobby groups and some governments against the LGBTI and abortion agenda.
During the opening of the conference, President Uhuru Kenyatta steered clear of the safe abortion and LGBTI debates, stating that Kenya will “track and monitor the implementation of the ICPD25 Nairobi Summit provided that the commitments are in keeping with Kenya’s Constitution, sociocultural values and national ethos.”
He said his government will ensure that all citizens attain the highest possible standard of health “entailing elimination of preventable maternal and newborn mortality; mother to child transmission of HIV; teenage pregnancies; and new adolescent and youth HIV infections by 2030.”
On Saturday, the President had categorically said he would not support any agenda that is against African beliefs and culture during the ICPD25.
“A comprehensive approach to SRHR is cost-effective and affordable for most countries. However, certain countries will require increased investments to successfully adopt and progressively realise SRHR in UHC,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) noted in a release.
Experts said without inclusion of the minority groups and political goodwill, it may be hard to implement UHC.