Today marks the first World
Humanitarian Day, a time to celebrate the efforts of men and women who work to
save lives in crisis settings, such as war or natural disasters.
Special recognition goes to the
individuals and organizations who continue to champion for comprehensive
reproductive health – enabling women to choose how many kids they want and
reducing birth-complications that kill over half a million women every year.
200 million women around the world want but cannot access family planning-there
is still much to be done, especially as the Millennium Development Goal of
reducing maternal mortality by 2015 continues to lag in progress.
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Over the past decade, we’ve made
achievements in recognizing reproductive health not only as a human right, but
as a priority in global health (ICPD 1994). Yet, funding from USAID has
declined by 20 percent for family planning since 1998 (Financing Global Health
2009 Report). Reproductive health accounts for one third of the global disease
burden, yet it is among the least funded health initiatives. Amidst the overall decline in key RH
components, donors have also forgotten about conflict-affected countries. A
study from the RAISE initiative found that non-conflict
countries received 53% more official development assistance for RH activities
than conflict countries.
Reproductive health initiatives are
often left out of humanitarian responses in areas afflicted by civil wars and
natural disasters. Coordination between local NGOs, international NGOs, and
governments remains a challenge as maternal deaths, orphaned children, STI
rates, and gender-based violence continue to grow. But those often most
vulnerable to such circumstances are refugees and internally displaced persons,
populations that face these dilemmas while on the move for safety.
While other basic needs like water,
food and shelter are prioritized in humanitarian response, reproductive health
has often been left behind. The nature of conflict has changed-the average
displacement is now 17 years. 17 years is
a long time to be living on ‘relief’.
What about family planning? Displaced persons are taking refuge in
urban areas where they are likely to live as a hidden population which is often
denied access to life-saving services.
We must communicate to the general
public the seriousness of reproductive health dilemmas and its relevancy to our
everyday lives. We must convince donors that investing in reproductive health
services is worthwhile – and sure enough, research proves that it is. Where is
money best spent? One cost-effective approach is partnering with local NGOs. The
recent crisis in Pakistan
brings to mind the Frontier Primary Health Care (FPHC) project in Pakistan. FPHC is among many success stories that
highlight how donor resources can empower local leaders to save lives and
build sustainable health infrastructures. Specifically, FPHC achieved
milestones in its work, such as providing antenatal care, improving the
referral system of patients, and forming support groups for men/women to talk about
Humanitarian day is a celebration of
the sacrifices that individuals have made and continue to make each day. It is
a sacrifice that speaks to the commitment to alleviate suffering. A belief in human dignity.