A resilient Pacific

The work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the region received high-level support on Tuesday from Solomon Islands Deputy Prime Minister, Douglas Ete. In particular, comprehensive sexuality education to ensure timely and correct sexual and reproductive health and rights information in schools.

Opening the first steering committee meeting of the Pacific Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (PRSRHP) on April 21, Mr Ete emphasised the importance of an informed youth population and the fact it is a very diverse population cohort.

Mr Ete also announced the Solomon Islands Government’s intention to finance, at least partially, the sexual and reproductive health programming as opposed to it being fully donor-supported.

“I am hoping this year that government policy will drive sexuality education, and rights will be attached to sexual and reproductive health,” Mr Ete said.

“Young people have various needs. We need to support their full access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education and services .… schools must have written curricula for it, otherwise we will be giving good speeches, good talk year after year and not change the lives of our people.”

Mr Ete said for effective sexual and reproductive health and rights programming, political will was an imperative, apart from a practical framework and co-ordinated planning between stakeholders.

“You need champions in the political arena to actually foster it otherwise it will be driven by donor funding and the Government will not honour it, it will not have ownership of this kind of program,” Mr Ete said.

“This in my mind is one of the most important programs that any government, should it be New Zealand, Solomon, Australia (implement) — specifically in my country this is one of the most important programs that needs to be addressed by government and addressed by politicians.”

Senior government officials, representatives of civil society partners and UNFPA representatives are attending the first steering committee meeting of the PRSRHP in the Solomon Islands.

The program is funded by the New Zealand Government, which has committed $NZ6 million for the next five years. It is hoped the specificity of the funding will accelerate efforts to improve national progress towards an enabling environment in which men, women and young people can make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health and protect their sexual and reproductive rights.

The countries to benefit are Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

“New Zealand considers good health to be a critical enabler of sustainable economic development,” acting head of the New Zealand Mission Mike Ketchen said. “Improved sexual and reproductive health, including access to family planning and sexual health services, is a key area of investment in Pacific health for New Zealand.”

The fund will be managed by the UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office working with the five governments and development partners including UNICEF, IPPF and civil society organisations on behalf of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative Amy Clancy, in her opening remarks, reminded participants of the importance of access to sexual and reproductive health-related information to avoid adolescent girls having children, forcing them to leave school.

Ms Clancy said the PRSRHP would address gaps in present sexual and reproductive health programming. Activities would be aligned to country national health plans and/or reproductive health policies and strategies.

The fund has also supported an initial needs assessment and baseline survey related to sexual and reproductive health in the five countries to ensure an informed, country-specific and targeted programming of activities.

“The UNFPA, in particular the staff of the Pacific Sub-Regional Office, will not take lightly this show of confidence in our capacity to manage this fund specifically in the area of reproductive health and rights,” UNFPA Pacific director and representative Dr Laurent Zessler, said.

“The linkages between poverty reduction, sexual and reproductive health and rights and population do not appear to be fully appreciated but if we ensure the good health of our people then as countries, we can be resilient populations to face our respective national challenges.”

According to the Solomon Islands Population and Housing Census conducted in 2009, young people in the 10-24 age group comprise a large population cohort, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the population.

Mr Ete reminded the meeting the education achievements of young people, the skills they develop and decisions they make about sexual behaviour and child bearing would have profound effects on both the population today and the next generation.

“It is often said that young people are our future, if that is so then we must invest in our young men, women and children.”

* Ariela Zibiah is the communications officer at UNFPA. The views expressed are not of this newspaper.

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