Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Nigeria's science and health coverage needs a boost in the media

Science is the bedrock of professions like medicine, engineering, and agriculture, on which the quality of our life is anchored. Since all scientists and media practitioners share the vision of a better life for our people, we have a responsibility in ensuring that the general population receive simple and understandable scientific information that could be important for their welfare.

At the round table last week between journalists and the Nigerian Academy of Science on “Assessment of Science Reporting in Nigeria,’ participants critiqued the current state of science journalism by examining research reporting in Nigeria. The roundtable reviewed the climate change phenomenon in Nigeria, ensuring effective collaboration between the Nigerian media and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The vibrant discussion also focused on how people can become better informed on advances in science and technology.

Presently, science reports and news are ineffectively covered in the print and electronic media, both in absolute terms and in comparison to the coverage given to literature and other liberal arts. Though scientists have a traditional avenue for communicating their research findings, which usually includes publishing their studies in appropriate scientific or professional journals, the roundtable enjoined them to adopt the media as also an effective way of passing across their research findings to the general populace who need the knowledge.

In the same vein, the mass media, the mass media needs to fine-tune their role of linking the scientist to the general public. A commendable lot has been done in this regard but there is still need for improvement. Science information should be regarded as an important element of public information on issues of vital importance to the population.

The roundtable commended the attempts being made by some organizations to improve the reportage of science; the Nigeria Academy of Science, Development Communications Network and the Association of Science Journalist were commended for their strive to increase the level of reporting of scientific activities by scientific organizations, to report scientific advances made in the country, and to initiate public debates on the ethics of scientific studies reported by our scientists.

By Pelumi Olukoya

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Violence against women still a daily reality in Sudan

When Sudan first emerged into the evening news headlines, people around the world heard stories of conflict between the Northern, predominantly Muslim, regions and the Southern, predominantly Christian, regions of Sudan. In those horrific stories of warfare and civilian deaths, one story remained woefully silent—what happened to all the women? And what is being done today to protect these women from repeated violence and harassment across Sudan?

Three years after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between north and south Sudan, women living in the country are still treated like second-class citizens. Sexual violence within marriage is still common, female genital mutilation (FGM), a harmful traditional practice that often leads to infection, painful sexual encounters, and even death for young women, is still practiced, and rape is still a terrifying daily reality.

In many parts of Sudan, particularly the northern areas, streets are deemed as ‘men’s only’ areas. If a woman is seen walking or driving by herself, especially after dark, she becomes a target for harassment.

“If you resist sexual advances from men, they will ask you, ‘Then why are you out on the street?’ said Shaza Balla Mohamed, a Sudanese delegate at this year’s 3rd Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Abuja. “They assume that if you are out walking outside then you are looking for a man. It’s very dangerous.”

Mohamed and her colleague, Sharaz Magzoub, work for a civil society organization called Salmmah for Women Resources in northern Sudan. Their roles as advocates for women’s rights and the abolishment of FGM has put them on the government ‘black list’ as enemies of the government. But despite these obstacles they continue to educate others on strategies to end sexual violence against Sudanese women.

In his presentation to delegates at the 3rd Africa conference, Sharaz Magzoub spoke on “Sexual Violence in Darfur” and the crippling effect that female disempowerment has reaped on the whole of his country.

Since 2003, the Sudanese government has used mass rape as a systematic weapon of war to terrorize and subjugate entire communities at large. Though civil societies—such as MSF Holland and Human Rights Watch—have documented these calculated attacks on women at an international level, the Sudanese government continues to reject these claims as ‘anti-government propaganda’ made up by foreigners and ‘leftist’ spies. Many workers in foreign civil society organizations in Sudan are restricted by the government to the areas they work in, and don’t have the necessary resources to reach out to villagers on issues of sexuality and gender empowerment. Some civil workers have even faced deportation or jail sentences from the government due to the humanitarian projects they undertake.

Despite these challenges, many civil society organizations have succeeded in breaking through government barriers to provide psychosocial services for rape victims, report rape cases, train citizens in transitional justice, and carry out international crime court procedures. Because of this success Magzoub strongly advocates that donor agencies, both national and international, recognize the importance of civil society’s role in uplifting the lives of women in Darfur and around Sudan.

“We need more than laws to prohibit violence against women,” Magzoub said. In the case of FGM, Magzoub and Mohamed agree that the government should prohibit doctors from practicing the procedure; however, they said that the midwives or religious figures in the villages that practice the procedure would first need civil societies or the media to educate them on the dangers of FGM before they would be willing to stop. This calls for greater civil society presence in village areas and a revolution in the media.

In addition, Magzoub also recommended that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement be revisited and given legal reform to reflect women’s rights in the aftermath of the Sudan crisis. “We can’t continue to allow ignorance, culture, and religion to be excuses for violating women’s rights,” said Mohamed.

By Amanda Hale

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Youth sexuality: Value yourself and attain your potential

African youths have been enjoined to value their sexuality as much as they value the possessions they expend energy and their mearge resources to acquire. This would, not only allow for positive self expression but bring about a reduction in HIV transmission through sex. “If you can use so much money to buy skin and beauty products, why not value your sexuality, why treat your genitals with so low value that anybody can be your partner? Why disregard your genitals such that you do not even know how it looks, or how to take care of it adequately?”

However, there are various challenges that young people with HIV face in the African society and these include: Inadequate youth-friendly services, Challenges of drug dosage for adolescents; Stigma from health workers, community and peers on assumed mode of transmission; Stigma in school at/on admission; Stigma from peers on assumed mode of infection, Sex abuse/seduction and Inability to freely express one’s sexuality.

Leading this discussion was Rolake Odetoyinbo, executive Director of Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA) yesterday at the Youth Sexuality Institute of the conference taking place at the Taraba Hall of the International Conference centre Abuja. As the discussion progressed, it was agreed that the popular ABCs of prevention are still legit, there has been efforts to review t and thus make it more realistic especially for youths. The revised version should read thus A- Accept and acknowledge that sex happens; B –Be realistic and wake up t reality; C- Choices must be available; D- Delayed sexual activity should be encouraged amongst the youths; E- Empower people to negotiate safer sex or say No to unwanted sex; F- Financial independence for women.

Stigma and discrimination, power dynamics between men and women were identified as some of the prominent forces driving the spread the epidemic. These were besides religion and beliefs, the culture of silence and denial and harmful traditional practices.

According to Odetoyinbo, there are a lot of unspoken issues concerning HIV/AIDS and the youths in Africa and particularly in Nigeria. To counteract these issues and save lives, the youths themselves have been tasked to change their perceptions of the disease and their reactions to issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. Armed with the correct information, the youths in this age are better equipped not only to live their life more productively, but have the power to curb the further spread of the epidemic in the continent.

* By Nnenna Ike

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Maternal mortality and morbidity and the youth

“My neighbor’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby but by the time the medical personnel knew that there was another baby still in her womb, she was already weak. The hospital did not have the equipment to operate on her as the baby was breeched. When they took her to another hospital that had the equipment, there was no power supply to carry out the operation. When she was taken to a government hospital, she died because the hospital initially refused o admit her because she had not registered there early in her pregnancy.”

“I once had a friend who died. Initially we joked with her saying she was going fat. But after we were told she was dead, we later learnt that she was pregnant and went to the chemist to get some drugs. It was these drugs that she took that made her die.”

These are some of the observations made by some of the youth delegates at the youth sexuality Institute of the 3rd African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights. The fact that a selection of youths around Africa were admitted ever knowing pregnant woman who had complications of pregnancy and had adverse effect at childbirth is a pointer that the state of maternal, newborn and child health in Africa and Nigeria in particular leaves more to be desired.

The vibrant discussion was moderated by Dr Lucy Idoko of the UNFPA Abuja office at the second session of the Youth Sexual Institute of the Conference yesterday in a presentation titled ‘Maternal mortality and morbidity and the youth’. In order to mitigate the high rate of maternal mortality and morbidity, youths should have a firm grasp of the causes of maternal mortality. The discussion went ahead to highlight obstructed labour, early age of pregnancy, multi-parity and unsafe abortion as some of the causes of maternal mortality and morbidity.

The case of unsafe abortion was dealt upon with emphasis being played on the fact that abortion is said to be safe when it is being carried out by a medical personnel using the correct equipment and procedures and in a sanitary location, any other form of termination of a pregnancy is an unsafe abortion and should not be encouraged by any young person. Some myths about abortions were discussed and dispelled and the youths told that there must be effective counseling for every youth to make an informed decision as pertaining to conception and seeking abortions.

The responsibilities of youth boys and girls were listed as: arming themselves with correct information on available facilities for management of pregnancy and its complications, being able to exercise the sexual and reproductive rights to remove barriers which may be cultural, social and religious, educating their peers and community members on the need for appropriate care.

The youth sexuality Institute of the 3rd Africa conference on sexual health and rights kicked off yesterday with the following sessions: Defining the key terms and concept: sex, sexuality, gender, sexual health and rights; Status of youth sexual health and rights in Africa 1: what are the issues of concern and Status of youth Health and Rights in Africa 11: Progress made and further actions required.

By Nnenna Ike

The impact of HIV/AIDS on women and their work roles in Uganda

Sylvia Tamale, Dean of the Faculty of Law from Makerere University in Uganda, highlighted the fact, in her presentation on Gender, Work and HIV/AIDS in Uganda, that almost all research on the impact of HIV/AIDS totally ignores the role of women. On a personal level the emotional impact of HIV/AIDS and the extra workload assumed by women as a result is largely ignored. In terms of economic impact, most studies ignore the fact that support from the so-called care economy impacts directly on formal economy.

In Uganda, a woman’s work us largely invisible, unrecognised and undervalued; yet she is responsible for the care of the household, work in the field, selling goods on the roadside and co-ordinating community activities and often assumes double or triple shifts by working in the formal work force as well.

What studies tend to ignore is that a large proportion of the diverse activities performed by women does not fall into the traditional economy and does not make up part of Gross Domestic Product, but it is important to note that this largely female, largely invisible economy greatly subsidises and underpins the effectiveness of the visible economy, said Tamale.

At the heart of the struggle of HIV is the concept of care – physical care for the sick, care of the bereaved, psychological care and support of affected family members – and studies ignore the impact of HIV/AIDS care needs on the productivity and effectiveness of the work women do. Women are primarily responsible for the care of the sick, but the impact of the extra emotional, physical and time demands on her resources is not accounted for.

Studies also ignore the impact of personal HIV infection on the productivity of women doing unpaid work that sustain homesteads and families.

Infection often has dire consequences for a woman’s productive labour, and ultimately all these issues affect the economy at local, nationals and regional levels explained Tamale.

As HIV/AIDS related deaths chip away at the strong family network that guarantees familial support for siblings and the elderly there is a rise in women and child-headed households, imposing a socio-economic toll on affected families. Not only does this compromise a family’s standard of living, but also forces grandmother’s back into a full time parenting and household support role.

Since women are at the forefront of responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis, women in HIV affected families are often overburdened. However, Tamale noted that there were unexpected benefits from the pandemic, which include a new political consciousness of women, an increase in self esteem in women who are able to successfully offer help, the opening up of the silence on the taboo of talking about sex and a change in the traditional roles of men and women.

AIDS programmes ignore the elderly

Despite the fact that people experience a deterioration in health as they age, and immune system compromise makes the elderly more vulnerable and the need for ARVs more urgent, the older population is largely ignored by current HIV/AIDS programmes and interventions said Dr Uche Azie, from Zimbabwe.

Dr Azie added that older population is likely to see a more dramatic effect to HIV infections and that care of infected elderly is more problematic as a result of existing diseases like diabetes.

Access to suitable nutrition for the elderly is made more difficult as they are usually less economically active, relying more on subsistence farming, and have a poor ability to make up for lost income due to illness, and are therefore also more susceptible to food insecurity.

Within the context of Zimbabwe the health of the elderly is further compromised by the fact that patient schemes are not structured for the elderly and they are expected to pay normal rates for medical care.
The impact of HIV/AIDS on the family structure in Africa also impacts on the elderly in two ways. The elderly are no longer able to rely on support from their children during old age, but instead, often become responsible for the care of their orphaned grandchildren.

The elderly are clearly neglected by HIV/AIDS policy and programmes, but they should be a key focus as they are primarily responsible for the care of AIDS orphans. The burden of caring for extended family members often results in a compromise in living standards, the sale of various assets from land to bicycles, the return to work of the retired, and in the worst cases the elderly resort to begging said Azie.

Older people are not represented at global, regional and country levels, and as a result the multi-sectoral responses to HIV/AIDS ignore the elderly, which according to Dr Azie is largely due to the fact that the elderly, who collect pensions, are seen as a cohort of dependent on the state rather than a response group in need of assistance and services.

In the face of PMTCT, and the focus on orphans, the youth, the 15-49 age-group, programmes totally bypass the elderly - even VCT is not offered to the elderly because of the perceived low risk of infection concluded Azie.

By Sharon Davis

Spirit Spouses: A phenomenon of sexual fantasy or a reality?

The spirit-spouse belief system, a popular belief system in Nigeria came under scrutiny when Eno Blankson Ipke, a lecturer in the department of History and Strategic studies University of Lagos presented the findings of her study during the session ‘Sexual health in Africa’ yesterday.

Non-Nigerian delegates were wowed at hearing the situation as explained by Eno Blankson Ipke, where an individual is alleged to have constant sexual relations with a spirit spouse (not human).

Eno Blankson Ikpe said her interest to study the spirit-spouse belief system started when during one of the programmes of her church, the preacher had asked that people afflicted by spirit spouses should stand up for special prayers. “To my surprise, I was the only one left on the pew who did not stand up for this special prayer. My curiosity was aroused and I decided to take an academic study into this spirit spouse issue and my study has been most interesting.”

Mrs Ipke explained that the study which is on-going had a quantitative approach and interviewed individuals who have had spirit spouses and have been ‘delivered from their affliction, individuals who are still afflicted by these spirit spouses and persons who are relations and friends or know persons who have had or are still having spirit spouses.

As fairy tale as this may sound, the study findings are very revealing. Mrs Ipke said that her findings reveal “more ladies are afflicted by these spirit spouses than men and the spirit spouses seem to have a preference for fair ladies. The spirit husbands have constant sexual relations with the ladies in their dreams and these ladies claim that they wake up with physical evidence of sex like ‘sperm’ on their vaginal areas.”

Mrs. Ikpe explained that the phenomenon have sexuality implications on their human partners. When not yet married, the spirit spouses’ hinder their victims from getting married or remaining in a marriage union with another human partner. Also the spirit spouses take control of the human partner – who are powerless to resist the control and cannot resist the control - and make them do things like having multiple sexual partners and these human partners are powerless and cannot resist the control of their spirit spouses.

In a chat with this delegate and some others from Kenya, Mrs. Ikpe expressed the view that this spirit spouse belief system may be an African way of explaining off things we do not fully understand. She suspects that may be, these human partners who are mostly women may have been abused sexually at some point in their life – possibly at home (incest) and due to Africa’s culture of silence on issues of sexuality, these human partners at the time of being sexually abused had no one to talk to, or the abuse was shrouded in silence as is usually the case and at some point, begin to have imaginations. And since somebody has to be blamed for something and such bad things come from the spirit, it is best to blame it on a spirit which we cannot see than on incest. She noted that sexually abused persons have a tendency to some behaviour like multiple partners if not properly counselled and treated at the time of the sexual abuse. And this may well explain why human partners of spirit spouses may have multiple sex partners.

She is concerned that if this spirit spouse phenomenon is not fully researched into and facts established, the issues of accountability may not be achieved. This she noted is because the human partners will continue to blame their spirit spouses for their sexual actions instead of taking responsibility for their own actions. The study revealed that human partners get involved with spirit partners some times at birth when their parents dedicate them to spirits for protection or in appreciation for answering their request for the gift of a child. Some get involved with spirit spouses by having sexual relations with a human partner of a spirit spouse e.t.c.

Participants at the session commended the research effort but called for further research into the spirit-spouse belief system to establish facts instead of just pushing it aside as an expression of sexual fantasy of those affected.

By Ogechi Eronini

Don’t Agonize, Organize

At the ongoing 3rd Africa Sexuality Conference in Abuja Nigeria, young Africans are demanding to be given their fundamental human rights of which their sexuality rights is one of them.

In a session titled ‘Youth sexual rights, gender based violence and poverty’, African youths represented in the discussion panel by Miss Adiya Atuluku, Miss Esther Agbarakwe and Martin Mary Falana vehemently demanded from African governments and the adult community to treat young people as humans with rights that have to be met and protected.

Adiya Atuluku noted that despite constituting a good percentage of the population of Africa, “young people have limited access to quality information that will help them make informed sexuality choices and lack access to quality heath care when in need. Numerous traditional practices make youths vulnerable to sexual abuse.”

Esther Agbarakwe enumerated the ordeals that young people face due to gender based violence, violent acts against women, trafficking in young women and children and the wickedness of female genital cuttings among others on the sexuality of the African youth and asked “what can we do?”

Martin Mary Falana, the only male in the panel could not hide his anger at the toll that illiteracy, poverty and government lack of committment at addressing these youth challenges are having on the health of the future generation of Africa. “Monies spent on estacodes for politicians is enough to provide motorable roads so that our schools and hospitals can be more accessible but they will not” Falana bemoaned.

What can we do? How can we ensure that our governments and the adult community take the rights of the youths more seriously? How can we better demand our rights? These are some of the questions that resounded in the session venue, begging for answers from both panelists and participants at the session.

Youths were enjoined to take their destiny in their own hands by seeking and sharing information on their rights and on issues that affect them. They were told to volunteer their time and services to their community and organizations around them. Volunteering, it was said will provide youths with the needed space to learn and to express their concerns and above all to be spotted and recognised.

The youths called on government to also live up to its responsibility of protecting the rights of it citizens and meeting the needs of these citizens like good health care among others and to recognize that the youths are bonafide citizens of any nation.

The Action Aid Nigeria deputy country director, the organization that organised the discussion session in her remarks charged youths to “organize rather than agonise. The youths have a number that can not be over looked; if 60 million young people in Nigeria will demand for a thing with one voice, they will certainly be heard.”

By Ogechi Eronini

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Conference youth summit debates the definition of ‘youth’

The 3rd Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights launched yesterday with a youth summit at Taraba Hall, International Conference Center, Abuja, to bring youth from Nigeria and around the world together and discuss the role of sexuality in young people’s lives.

Laura Villa Torres of IPAS began the summit by welcoming youth delegates to the conference and urging young people to be open and to contribute innovative ideas throughout the week.

A key discussion during the summit was the definition of ‘youth’ and where to draw the line between a young person and an adult. Many youth delegates voiced that considering the age limit of the Institute, what happens to people who are above 24 years of age?

Mrs. Nike Esiet, Executive Director at Action Health Incorporated, Lagos, voiced that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines young people as those between 10-19 years of age, while youth are defined as those between 15-24 years of age. As such, Esiet said that the conference should have a cut-off age for youth participants, because the issues deemed important to someone in their late teens or early 20s will be much different from someone in their early 30s.

Some youth participants then argued that a youth is between the ages of 13 and 35, while some said that being a youth is a ‘thing of the mind’. Others believed that once a persons marries, that person ceases to be a youth, e.g. an unmarried 36-year-old can still be addressed as a youth and a married 23-year-old is no longer a youth.

Delegates agreed that regardless of the proper definition of what a ‘youth’ entails that they would join together learn the problems faced by young people in other African countries, to know the challenges facing young people in the sexuality field, and to join forces with other young people to have their voices heard.

Youth involvement is at the core of the sexuality conference, with side events such as youth sexuality discussions and youth capacity events sponsored by IPPF, IPAS, IWHC, and AHI to promote dialogue between adults and youth on sensitive issues such as sexuality education, sexual violence and abuse, gender roles and traditional practices.

* By Amanda Hale

Conference seeks to integrate HIV/AIDS with sexual health and rights

About 500 delegates, with representatives from each of the continents and at least 20 African countries, are expected to attend the four-day conference on Sexual Health and Rights that starts at the ICC in Abuja today. One of the draw cards for the conference, titled Sexuality, Poverty and Accountability in Africa, is the inclusion of some plenary sessions on how to integrate sexual health with HIV and AIDS.

Convenor of the conference Dr Uwemedimo Esiet said that this would be one of the first forums to talk about how to integrate HIV and AIDS with sexual health and rights, and will include ‘how to’ information from prominent HIV-positive women living on the African continent. The third, bi-annual conference on sexual health is aimed at opening and deepening discussions on sexuality on the African continent with a view to assuring a sexually healthy continent, and will explore the multifaceted intersections of sexuality, poverty and accountability.

In response to media questions at a press briefing yesterday, Dr Esiet emphasised that the conference is not an investment in a big jamboree, but rather an investment in the future of Nigeria and the future of the continent. “Every time you stimulate a conversation of this nature, you out with something new,” said Dr Esiet. “This conference is not going to be something new; it is not going to be different – but it will add to our knowledge, behaviour and practices because there are many successful projects in Africa that are worth replicating.”

The conference will also deepen the integration of HIV and AIDS into sexual health, with specific sessions geared towards imparting information of the practical low down of how to achieve integration, not just advocating it.

The conference also plans to raise awareness about the continental agreement between health ministers, known as the Maputo Plan, and to call on people to hold their governments accountable for achieving the planned targets said Dr Esiet.
Cross-learning and networking will be another important outcome of the conference. “If something is working in one African country, with its unique multi-languages, multi-tribes and multi-religions, then with just a little modification it is likely to work in another African country. There is no need to reinvent the wheel,” said Dr Esiet.

* By Sharon Davis

Sexuality Conference: Collaborative partnership with the media enjoined

The ignorance of journalists and the unwillingness of healthcare providers to provide the necessary information due to the bureaucratic procedures have been described as the major obstacle to the effective reporting on sexual health and rights issues in Nigeria particularly and in Africa as a whole.

Reporting this observation yesterday in a presentation titled Online Voices: Enhancing the capacity of Nigerian health journalists in reproductive health, STIs and HIV/AIDS at the concurrent session 1 of the 3rd Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, Nnenna Ike of the Development Communications Network (Devcoms) Lagos reported that the SciPH Journalism Forum was the instrument used in this qualitative research.

The SciPH Journalism Forum with a member strength of 206 journalists from showed through an e-discussion that the barriers to the effective reporting of reproductive and sexual health and rights also include miscommunication by healthcare personnel, perceptions of researchers to publicity, and research funding politics.

To ensure that the media play their expected role well, organized training and retraining of journalists should be a continuous activity in Nigeria. This training must be in the form of mentorship by experienced/veteran health educators, the establishment and maintenance of a link between journalists and healthcare personnel and most importantly having an immersion programme where journalists are embedded in health establishment for a short period of time so that they can understudy the issues involved in the running of the centre. This will ensure that when they make their reports, it is from an informed perspective.

African journalists especially those practicing in Nigeria should be empowered either physically or online. The development partners who are already doing this were enjoined to spread the training amongst both the experienced and the greenhorn journalists to achieve the desired state of reporting sexual health and rights issues. Ike recommended commitment to media personnel development by corporate health organization, more civil society-media dialogue.

* By Nnenna Ike

Women group advocate availability of correct information on medical abortion

The alarming number of women who die from complications of unsafe abortion annually was brought to the fore in the presentation made by Women in the Waves yesterday at the concurrent session that held at the African Hall of the International conference centre.

According to Cecilia Costa who represented Women on Waves, Amsterdam, “Globally, approximately 13% of al maternal deaths are due to complications of unsafe abortion. Half of the women who have an abortion are mothers with children.” She maintained that that the number of women who accessed their websites showed that quite a large percentage of women require abortion services. When they do not have this, they resort to unsafe practices which in many cases lead to death.

Women in the Waves website currently has 15, 000 visitors each month with their Helpdesk answering almost 1000 emails per month from women who require information on abortion services. Costa was quick to point that the services rendered were in the form of rending online consultation and counseling sessions to women, and giving them information on the use of drugs which can be procured personally and giving.

From the analysis of the work done so far, 80% of the women who seek their services are between 7 and 9 weeks pregnant while the remaining 20% were less than 7 weeks pregnant. Of these women, 58% of them were usually grateful for the services rendered while 31% though stressed, accepted the service and 1% wished she had never had never had the service.

With only 41.4% of the women knowing about medical abortion before using the services of Women on Web, Costa concluded that increasing access to information and support of self-administration of medical abortions is live-saving.

* By Nnenna Ike

Govt throws weight behind Sexuality Conference

President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua’s seven point agenda to making Nigeria one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2020 through the improvement of the health of her citizens was once more highlighted yesterday at opening ceremony of the 3rd Africa Conference on Sexuality health and Rights in Abuja Nigeria.

In a speech at the opening, the Minister of Health, Professor Adenike Grange, stressed that the Nigerian government is geared towards implementing a holistic approach to health through the strengthening of the health care system, advocating of gender equity, implementation of evidence-based approaches to eliminating violence against women and children and intergrating all programmes pertaining to maternal, newborn and child health.

According to her, sexuality issues are at the heart of the millennium development goals; which Nigeria is striving to achieve, she gave as examples: poverty fuelling sexual health diseases, early marriages, limited access to quality information, sexual violence and gender inequality as the sexuality issues which must be tackled effectively.

While commending the Conference theme, - Sexuality, Poverty, and Accountability- Prof. Grange said that the deliberations from the conference would serve as a veritable tool for formulating cost effective measures of promoting sexual health.

While welcoming delegates to the Conference, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, Director General of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) said that Nigeria has reached the stage where the issue of sexuality should be discussed objectively and openly if the situation of HIV/AIDS was to be improved upon.

According to him, “Every issue on sexuality has an impact on every life and thus every economy and HIV/AIDS has as its centre-point the issue of sexuality.”
Osotimehin stated that he hoped that the Conference deliberations would encourage a dialogue that would affect every work in every country in Africa with respect to HIV/AIDS and sexuality.

Goodwill messages were given by representatives of Ford Foundation, UNAIDS, Ipas, IPPF, Packard Foundation, Urgent Action Plan, Amanitare among others.

*By Nnenna Ike

The failure to deliver quality childbirth care in Kenyan health facilities

In Kenya, many women would rather deliver their babies at home, with no assistance, no drugs, and no medical equipment, than step foot inside a public or private hospital.

These same women would decide not to seek reproductive health care services, thereby increasing their risk of complications during childbirth and creating a higher maternal mortality and child death rate in the country.

The reason for this attitude among women is not ignorance, lack of information, or traditional values—it is the range of gross human rights violation occurring in Kenyan hospitals and clinics.

Over the years women have reported multiple cases of abuse during delivery, including being called ‘stupid’ by nurses; being cut with scissors to make delivery easier for nurses; being left alone to deliver; being forced to lay on soiled sheets during delivery; not receiving food or water during and after childbirth; having to wait an excessive amount of time for stitching vaginal tears; and being stitched with little or no anesthesia.

One woman working in a delivery ward in Kisumu, Kenya, reported that nurses often cut patients’ vaginas on purpose with scissors so that they could then make money for stitching the women back again. She also remembered nurses using abusive language and violence with patients, telling them to ‘spead your legs the way you did when you got pregnant.’

“You see women being mistreated and not being given their rights and you sympathize, [but] there is nothing you can do,” she later said.

According to Claris Oganga of the Federation of Women’s Lawyers, who spoke to delegates yesterday at the 3rd Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Abuja, the reasons for the poor state of health care in Kenya is complex and multi-faceted. Since 2006 Oganga has interviewed a number of women, health care providers, licensing and regulatory bodies, and leaders of medical associations for a joint project of the Federation of Women’s Lawyers and Centre for Reproductive Health. she found that poor access to hospitals, understaffing/lack of institutional support, demoralized health care staff, lack of supplies, unhygienic conditions, and lack of proper record keeping contributed significantly to the bottlenecks in the Kenyan health system.

The Kenyan government also holds part of the blame, with no strong commitment to issues relating to women and reproductive health, especially when considering future health budgets and care programs. There is no Minister of Health in Kenya, and no freedom of information act (though one is being drafted) to allow women to research their rights and seek redress when neglected or abused by nurses and doctors at health care centers.

Oganga recommended that government and non-profit sectors promote and develop policies and legislation that protect the rights of women seeking RH care and ensure sufficient regulation in both public and private facilities, as well as to ratify the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, which explicitly recognizes the right to reproductive health care as key component of women’s fundamental human rights. She also recommended that nurses be trained on gender and human rights issues while still in college to understand the rights of their patients and to realize the impact of their care on expectant mothers.

* By Amanda Hale

Youths urged to be assertive in their views on sexuality and accountability

As the 3rd Africa Sexuality Health and Rights Conference kicked off at the International Conference Centre Abuja, Mrs. Nike Esiet, one of the Plenary speakers and the Executive Director at Action Health Incorporated AHI, Lagos reiterated the need for governments to give a listening ear to youth perspectives on sexuality, poverty and accountability. Their correct perceptions and interpretations, according to her, would go a long way in determining the level of their participation in nation building.

Speaking at the end of the Pre-conference Youth summit, which held yesterday at the Taraba Hall of the Centre, Esiet said that the youths in Africa should be aware and conversant of the different instruments available to address the afore-mentioned issues. She maintained that though Nigeria and other African countries are signatories to a number of declarations that concern youths, sexuality, poverty and accountability, their domestication would still not yield the expected results/situation until the youths become knowledgeable of the different instruments available to put them to practise.

Esiet added that the conference would have quite a number of lawyers in attendance, so quality consideration will be given to the issues of the practicability of the local, national, and international instruments for actualising the various declarations.

She finally urged the international youth delegates and those attending from Nigeria to be vocal and to participate actively so as to ensure that they are heard and their opinions are counted.

* By Nnenna Ike

Sexuality health and rights promotion: Men’s active involvement urged

Men have been left behind in the move to emancipate and empower women according to Nonofo Molefhi, an MP for population and development in Botswana, who is due to address delegates to the third Sexual Health and Rights Conference in Abuja today.

“I have come to the realisation that while we were focusing on empowering women, we forgot to take the men with us,” said Molefhi at a press conference at the NACA offices in Abuja on Sunday. “Today’s women are not the mothers of yesterday. They are professionals, they take responsibility for themselves and their families – and men feel threatened because some power has been taken away from them.”

MP Molefhi, who is the chair of a special committee on HIV in Botswana, explained that within Botswana men often react violently to the newfound confidence and assertiveness in women, saying it often leads to heinous crimes. Hinting that as far as men are concerned, it is acceptable for the man to terminate a relationship, but not for women to take the first step to end the relationship. This often results in violence, and even murders. Men are generally away from home more than women, and often tend to have more than one partner, but they fail to realise that their wife will feel violated and betrayed, he said.

Molefhi is calling for campaigns not only to embrace women’s rights, but also for campaigns to assist men to come to terms with contemporary society and the goal of gender equality. To achieve this he laid the responsibility at the door of government, saying they should prioritise resources to improve gender equality and also focus on sexual health issues.

The MP said that most of the money spent on sexual health and related activities were in fact donor money. “It is time that the resource came out of our own national budgets,” he said. Molefhi added that following the Abuja declaration, governments are now required to report on how the requisite 15% of health budget is spent.

* By Sharon Davis