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Instability bogs down health project

Pascalinah Kabi

National Assembly Speaker, Sephiri Motanyane, says the implementation of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, HIV and Aids and Governance Project in Lesotho was sluggish owing to political instability and uncertainty experienced in the last three years.

Officially opening a workshop held by the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum between 24-26 October in Mohale’s Hoek, Mr Motanyane said other countries in Africa have made significant strides towards the attainment of goals of the project.

He cited countries including Namibia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe that have so far made significant strides towards the attainment of goals of the project.

However, in the case of Lesotho, the country has not made much progress in implementing the Swedish funded Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), HIV and Aids and Governance Project, which was introduced in 2015 and supervised by the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

The slow progress was caused by the political instability that has seen the country going to the polls three times in a period of five years.

This Swedish funded project seeks to enhance skills, knowledge and competencies in order to promote the representative, legislative and oversight role of Members of Parliament.

In addition, the successful implementation of the project will help create lasting partnerships among relevant stakeholders in the field of sexual and reproductive health rights and HIV and AIDS. These alliances will improve sharing of information and encourage stakeholders to interact with parliament, in line with best principles of participatory democracy.

“While some countries have done well through this project, countries such as Lesotho and Tanzania are still lagging behind. Allow me, members, to inform you that the implementation phase of this project here in Lesotho has been greatly impacted by sluggish progress owing to a period of political uncertainty which ultimately led us to snap elections four months ago,” Mr Motanyane said.

He said Lesotho managed to hold only three workshops conducted in the last two years, with the latest on Staff and Boundary Partners held in Mohale last September.

“We remain grateful that we were granted another opportunity to remain part of this project regardless of a future that seemed bleak and unpredictable. Looking at the timeframe of the project, we are left with only five months to make an impact,” he said.

Mr Motanyane said it was his fervent conviction that Lesotho could be considered for the second phase of the project if they could demonstrate their usual commitment and results-oriented approach.

He said the workshop created an avenue for Members of Parliament to identify and address priorities to improve sexual and reproductive health.

“Above all, it is poised to give impetus to our efforts in an endeavour to raise visibility of sexual and reproductive health rights. You will agree with me that the wellbeing of every nation is central to productivity and sustainable economic development,” he said.

He explained it was generally understood that the health of every individual is a fundamental human right and a responsibility of the state, adding that investing in the health of the people was crucial as there was a high potential for social and economic returns.

“It has over the years been noted that a mother’s health has a direct effect on the health and wellbeing of the entire nation, while a healthy child grows up to be a productive adult.

“As a result, good health features very high in the priorities of many countries, as reflected by various national frameworks, as well as the global, international and regional commitments,” he said.

Mr Motanyane noted that several studies revealed alarming statistics of people living with HIV and AIDS in countries such as Lesotho and that a more critical look into health reports confirmed the stark reality that women and girls are the hardest hit by the epidemic.

“The Universal Declaration of Sexual Rights that was adopted by the 14th World Congress on Sexology held in 1999 in Hong Kong specifies eleven sexual rights.  Key words in these rights are equity, freedom, autonomy, access, information and education,” he said.

Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) explicitly indicates that every individual should have the right to freely control and make informed decisions concerning his or her sexuality, Mr Motanyane said.

He emphasised it was the obligation of every state to respect, protect and fulfil these rights; and to support them, governments should take actions that ensure availability, accessibility, adequate and good quality reproductive health care services.

“Through the Abuja Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Tuberculosis and other Related Infectious Diseases of 2001, the African leaders committed to allocate 15 percent of their total annual government budgets to the health sector.

“I share the sentiments of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008 regarding this commitment, when he said: “The African Union (AU) Abuja 15 percent pledge is one of the most important commitments African leaders have made to health development and financing.”  Therefore, our heads of state should strive to meet this pledge without further delay,” Mr Motanyane said.

He pointed that the continued loss of millions of lives in Africa annually, a situation that can be prevented, was unacceptable and unsustainable.

A cursory glance at reports on the progress made towards the Abuja pledge highlighted that only a handful of African countries have attained this target.

The 2017 World Health Statistics Report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises the importance of sustaining universal health coverage using national budgets, indicating that in addition to increased health allocations, focus should also be placed on addressing issues of inefficiencies, expenditure management problems, and highlights strategic priorities for sustaining progress towards universal health coverage.

“As leaders and representatives of the people, through our legislative, oversight and representative functions, we are duty-bound to complement the efforts of the government to improve the lives of Basotho,” Mr Motanyane said, adding that parliament was responsible for allocating sufficient resources to the health sector and enacting laws that entrench health rights and address all health-related challenges.

He said Members of Parliament have a responsibility to hold government accountable in fulfilling their national, regional and international commitments. They should, he said, persuade transformation of national health system to facilitate universal health coverage and to monitor government activities working towards sustaining and expanding sexual and reproductive programmes.

“Members, the time is now for you to walk the talk by demonstrating leadership and taking concrete action for the sake of Basotho and Lesotho. There is a need for a buy-in to extend to all our stakeholders especially the civil society organisations and related government agencies,” he said.

He said the greatest foreseeable threat was that the envisaged implementation plan may, in some instances, be misconstrued as an initiative of parliament as it placed much emphasis on parliament’s involvement.

“The necessary communication mechanisms through proper channels would need to be engaged in order for us to be at the same wave length and to ensure inclusivity in all our actions.”

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