Threat to reproductive health increasing
- Dr Sadik

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
March 26, 2000

Guyana's young people face a growing threat to their reproductive health in the form of sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV/AIDS.

This was confirmed by Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr Nafis Sadik, when she delivered a lecture entitled 'What's New, What's Next,' on Thursday at the Foreign Service Institute. Dr Sadik was on a two-day visit to Guyana.

According to her, nearly half of all new STIs are among people under 24. She said a major effort is needed to help young people protect their reproductive health. This must include teaching sexual responsibility to both boys and girls and by ensuring they have the services they need.

Dr Sadik and the government signed an agreement for the implementation of the Adolescent and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health (AYSRH) pilot, ProjectSOON, in four areas of Guyana.

Guyana was among the countries most active in creating and consolidating the global consensus at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)in 1994, Dr Sadik said.

According to her, Guyana was in the lead in ICPD+5 last year, in proposing that countries take firm action to protect adolescent reproductive health, notably through effective education and services specially targeted to young people's needs.

She said, Guyana, like the rest of the Caribbean, has experienced a steady drain through migration which resulted in 60% of the population being under 25. According to Dr Sadik, the national survey for ICPD+5 showed that young people felt that they were not getting the services they needed to protect their reproductive health.

"It is important to correct this perception because poor services threaten the productive health of young women and increase health costs," said Dr Sadik.

Lack of good family planning services would result in a higher birthrate than people want or the country needs.

"In addition young people who do not find the services they need would have another motivation towards emigration at just the time when their energy and skills are most needed," she opined.

The UNFPA head said unintended pregnancy is a threat to very young women. Pregnancy poses far higher risks to women under 18. Childbirth too early in life could end a girl's education, condemn her to poverty and frequently lead to ill-health throughout the rest of her life.

Dr Sadik said in Guyana some ten per cent of girls under 19 have been pregnant at least once.

"Unintended pregnancy is a tragedy, not only for the young women concerned, but for their families and for the country, and it is a preventable tragedy," contended Dr Sadik.

Poverty and gender Guyana's women suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty. Women-headed households in the Caribbean are approaching 50% of the total. Given the skewed distribution of income in favour of men, Dr Sadik said, many women-headed households live in poverty. In Guyana 71% of female-headed households are among the working poor.

According to the executive director of UNFPA, in common with other countries there are wide urban/rural disparities in Guyana. One of the most important is primary health care, including reproductive health. These include providing modern and accessible family planning services, and guaranteeing access to them help to protect women's health; safe motherhood practices which save many lives and protect many families. She said protection and care for girl children from the earliest age, including health, nutrition and education are vital for the next generation.

Dr Sadik added that an all-out effort is required to bring men to an understanding of their full responsibilities regarding sexuality and procreation. She declared that this was not a new idea, nor was it farfetched. According to her, effective male responsibility programmes are in place in many countries. They provide an essential element in the struggle against poverty, Dr Sadik said.