Members of Parliament (MPs) who serve on parliamentary committees of health from 22 countries across Africa, and other stakeholders in family planning, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH) on the continent convened in Munyonyo, Uganda between 30-31 October 2019 for the 11th Network of African Parliamentary Committees of Health (NEAPACOH) meeting.
The theme for this year’s forum, “Building the capacity of African policymakers for enhanced implementation of ICPD Programme of Action and improved reproductive health outcomes: Challenges and Opportunities”, was timely. Between 12-14 November 2019, the Governments of Kenya and Denmark, and UNFPA will co-convene the ICPD25 Summit to mobilise political will and financial commitments urgently needed to accelerate and fully implement the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action.
AFIDEP was represented at this year’s meeting by Dr. Rose Oronje, Director of Public Policy & Communications, and Dr. Bernard Onyango, Senior Knowledge Translation Scientist. On the first day of the meeting, Dr. Oronje gave a presentation on the nexus between teen pregnancies and Africa’s development, noting that ending teen pregnancies would simultaneously lower Africa’s rates of maternal death and disability from complications during pregnancy and childbirth, reduce unsafe abortions; lower dropout of girls from school, and increase their contribution to sustainable development efforts.
She decried the high prevalence of teen pregnancies in many African countries, with Niger and Nigeria registering among the highest rates of teenagers who have begun childbearing at 40.4 and 31.5 percent respectively. Data from the World Health Organization shows that one out of seven maternal deaths globally occurs in Nigeria, the second-highest number of maternal deaths outside of India. She further highlighted the negative influence of the contentions around teen sexuality due to long-held beliefs and values, and ineffective interventions being implemented despite the availability of evidence on what works and what doesn’t, in curbing teenage pregnancies.
Dr. Oronje challenged MPs present to contribute to ending the scourge by, among other actions, advocating for the understanding and support for teen sexuality programmes, including comprehensive sexuality education in schools and supporting laws, policies and programmes that enable more girls to stay in school, the best form of contraception. As an illustration, the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey reported that girls with secondary and higher education are three times less likely to have begun childbearing compared to girls without education.
Dr. Bernard Onyango spoke at an afternoon session on the first day as well, where he gave a presentation titled: Harnessing the AU’s Demographic Dividend agenda for accelerated implementation of the ICPD PoA and achieving the SDGs at country level – Issues for policy prioritisation and agenda-setting. He highlighted the specific actions that African countries can prioritise in striving to meet the national, regional and global commitments of the ICPD Programme of Action. He urged the MPs present, for example, to among other efforts, legislate where necessary, and to use existing laws and policies in fulfilling the promises of the ICPD PoA; build coalitions; and advocate for a data revolution for evidence-informed decision-making.
On their part, some of the participants cast doubts on the ability of African countries to actually harness the demographic dividend. In particular, they expressed concern that African countries have made many commitments to advance population and development but failed to implement them and therefore the forthcoming ICPD25 commitments could end up the same way. Additionally, tackling gaps in governance was identified as a major pathway to the objective of harnessing the demographic dividend.
Held annually, the NEAPACOH meeting is convened by the Partners in Population and Development – Africa Regional Office (PPD-ARO) in partnership with various stakeholders including AFIDEP and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).