Benefits of enacting EAC treaty’s sexual health bill
The objective of the East Africa Community (EAC) sexual and reproductive health (SRH) bill is to protect and facilitate the attainment of the life-course sexual and reproductive health and rights of all citizens; promote and provide for age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and services of all persons, to facilitate and promote the prevention of newborn, child mortality, maternal mortality and morbidity from preventable causes; to facilitate and promote reduction and elimination of unsafe abortions, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, early and unintended pregnancies; to prohibit harmful practices from the Community and provide for related matters.
The bill is hooked on Article 118 of the Treaty with the principle of leave no one behind, in accordance with which Partner States committed to cooperate generally in health and specifically in the development of reproductive health and to harmonise national health policies and regulations in order to achieve quality health within the bloc.
Despite the considerable benefits of investing in SRH, it is a politicised topic in many communities and also progress is stalled in part by lack of resources.
As public participation commences, the public need to be sensitised of all the benefits of the bill, which recognises among others: Age and culturally appropriate comprehensive sexuality education; Duty of parents and guardians to provide age appropriate sexual and reproductive health information; Sexual reproductive healthcare for men; Menstrual health; Health and life-saving post-abortion care and treatment and; Public awareness of sexual and reproductive health rights.
The bill also seeks to strengthen mechanisms to facilitate attainment by the region of the goal to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes by 2030 as reverence in the EAC Integrated Reproductive Maternal, Newborn Child and Adolescent Health Policy Guidelines, 2016-30 and the EAC Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Strategic Plan.
EAC has many national regional and international frameworks to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health by facilitating, providing and promoting the highest attainable standard of health and providing measures towards the full realisation of the right to health. However, we still see a high prevalence harmful cultural practices in our region, poor maternal child and adolescent health indicators, poor implementation and enforcement of the national instruments, challenges in availability and access to good quality affordable services to all, violence against young boys, women, young girls, vulnerable groups, poor investment in health intervention and health sector, huge gender inequalities and inequities, huge barriers to access to information despite advancements in technology. These need to be tackled by passing the bill which is a regional instrument.
Passing the bill is a win as it will ensure availability of Sexual and Reproductive Health services for men and women beyond 55 years, is very crucial for women in menopause, prostate issues for men, sexual dysfunctions and reproductive organ cancer. Further the bill aims to provide a framework for advancement and protection Sexual Reproductive Health needs for all, promotes safe motherhood, prevention of unwanted outcomes of pregnancy and risky unsafe abortions.
In addition, the bill will catalyse many processes, including putting place necessary structures, facilities, resources in the region which will contribute to the achievement of the SDG 3 targets in the region; Ensure access to quality SRH care, education and services; Allow for access to assisted Reproductive Health Technologies; Better accountability systems; better engagement of sectors, partners; alignment with global and international instruments.
Therefore, there is need to strengthen focus on addressing structural barriers to health, including SRH and HIV & TB prevention, inherent in the 17 SDGs.
Enacting a common document for the region gives an opportunity to engage, accelerate, align and enhance accountability.
— The writer is a Sexual Reproductive Health expert and a practicing communications strategist