– Release date: 25 March 2004
A cross party delegation of Irish parliamentarians, who are currently participating in a study tour to Ethiopia to examine the provision of and access to sexual and reproductive health services, have said that they recognise huge capacity constraints but believe that prioritisation of resources in this area is crucial to the overall development of the country.
This is the second time in the past two years that a parliamentary delegation from Ireland has visited Ethiopia to look at sexual and reproductive health. The visit is being hosted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with assistance from the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa.
This study tour is taking place at a time when the Irish Government holds the Presidency of the European Union. Later this month, as the EU President, the Irish Government will be responsible for developing the EU position at the UN Conference on Population and Development, which will take place in New York to mark the ten-year point in the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).
Since Monday the delegation has had the opportunity to visit a number of projects offering services in the area of sexual and reproductive health which are crucial to meeting the goals set out at the ICPD. In addition, the delegation has met with Government agencies working in the area of health, including a meeting with the Minister for Health.
The delegation has made the following observations:
The huge financial and technical constraints in Ethiopia are an understandable barrier to the empowerment of the Ethiopian people, and in particular that of women and girl children. However, it is critical that resources are prioritised in educating women and children and in the provision of services to ensure a healthy population.
During the Irish Presidency of the European Union, the Irish Government has placed a particular priority focus on the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS. In the Dublin Declaration, which has emanated from the Irish Presidency, there is a clear call for investment in behavioural change and access to sexual and reproductive health services to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. We strongly hope that the message of the Dublin Declaration will be supported in all health programmes in Ethiopia.
On the issue of harmful practices and early marriage, the delegation is pleased that laws now exist to make such practices illegal. However, increased policing of these laws at community level will be imperative in guaranteeing their enforcement.
The task facing the Government in ensuring widespread access to sexual and reproductive health services for women is immense and the delegation welcomes some improvements that have been made to increase the prevalence of sexual and reproductive health services and supplies. The delegation has noted that many NGOs, in particular the Ethiopian Family Guidance Association, are working at the forefront in the provision of sexual and reproductive health services and we hope that the Government can further support their programmes. However, the delegation wishes to express disappointment over the reduction to the overall national health budget.
In funding of sexual and reproductive health services, the delegation has learned of the financial constraints facing many service providers as a result of the US ‘Gag Rule’, which has prevented US funding from reaching service providers. This policy is having a serious negative effect on women’s health in Ethiopia and the delegation will bring pressure to bare, wherever possible, to have this policy reversed.
In addition, the delegation will be calling on the Irish Government to ensure that development assistance for sexual and reproductive health services is further prioritised for Ethiopia. This is critical for safe births, a reduction in maternal mortality and a reduction in the spread of HIV/AIDS.
As this delegation visit has coincided with the inaugural meeting of the Pan-African Parliament, the delegation strongly welcomes this event, which was attended this morning by Deputy Pat Carey from the Irish Government. It is hoped by the delegation that the Pan-African Parliament will assist in increasing wider participation of civil society in the political in Africa, and especially in Ethiopia. Voter education and participation in the democratic process is essential in development.
The study tour will conclude on Saturday and the delegation is being lead by Senator Mary Henry (Independent). Other members of the delegation include Deputy Pat Carey (Fianna Fail/Government), Senator Derek McDowell (Labour Party) and Deputy Fiona O’Malley (Progressive Democrats/Government). Also accompanying the delegation is Karen Griffin from the Irish Family Planning Association, as well as two journalists from the Irish media.