Taking action for better sexual and reproductive health policies

11 April 2016
Deputy Minister Nino Berdzuli
Nino Berdzuli, Deputy Minister of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs of Georgia, speaks at the consultation meeting in Tbilisi.

TBILISI, Georgia – Improving national sexual and reproductive health policies was at the top of the agenda when policy-makers from 17 countries, UNFPA representatives, and World Health Organization (WHO/Europe) staff gathered here in mid-March.

The two-day consultation meeting organised by UNFPA’s Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia and WHO/Europe aimed to generate consensus on a new draft of the European Action Plan for Human Rights-Based Sexual and Reproductive Health (2017-2021) among countries in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.

‘The European Action Plan will be a crucial tool for countries in the region to build on the progress we have achieved in this region and to take bold new steps towards making universal access to sexual and reproductive health a reality, as called for by the Sustainable Development Goals,’ said Tamar Khomasuridze, UNFPA’s Regional Adviser for Sexual and Reproductive Health.

She added that UNFPA has been a strong advocate for developing the Action Plan and stressed that the Tbilisi meeting served to make sure the needs and priorities of the countries in the region are discussed by national and international experts and well-reflected in the Action Plan.

The Action Plan is currently being developed by WHO/Europe, in close cooperation with member states and partner organisations, including UNFPA. Set to be endorsed by 53 countries this fall, it will provide a framework to guide and inform the development of country-specific policy responses, action plans, and programmes for improving sexual and reproductive health in the region.

Achievements have been made in the region in terms of improving maternal and perinatal health, preventing cancers of reproductive organs, and increasing the modern contraceptive prevalence, according to Nino Berdzuli, Deputy Minister of Labour, Health, and Social Affairs of Georgia, who gave the opening remarks at the meeting. But, she emphasised: ‘There are still inequities that require intersectoral work between the health, education, and social sectors to tackle these inequities and achieve better health and social outcomes.’

Though maternal mortality has more than halved since the early 1990s in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there are still significant inequities between and within countries, and many barriers remain for women and young people to access quality sexual and reproductive health information and services. Modern contraceptives remain rarely used in large parts of the region. Teenage birth rates are high, on average three times higher than in Western Europe, and the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer is up to ten times higher. Abortion remains a widespread method of birth control, and the region has some of the world’s highest levels of secondary infertility. Against the global trend, HIV is on the rise in the region, with sexual contact rapidly becoming the predominant mode of transmission.

The meeting in Tbilisi served as an opportunity to exchange experiences and strengthen the network of policy-makers working on sexual and reproductive health issues in the region, with participants developing concrete suggestions for further revision or development of their national strategies and programmes to ensure that they are in line with UNFPA and WHO regional policy documents. UNFPA is providing support to countries in the region in updating or developing national sexual and reproductive health policies and other frameworks, and in consolidating national feedback on the draft European Action Plan.

During the two days of meetings on 14 and 15 March, participants discussed the latest drafts of the European Action Plan and the European strategy on women’s health in the WHO European Region, as well as links with already approved global and regional policy documents such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Expert presentations and participant discussions brought to the fore topics including the links between sexual and reproductive health and human rights; family planning; abortion; sexuality education; sexual violence; and the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents, migrants, Roma, and people living in remote areas and in poverty, as well as members of other disadvantaged populations.