Nairobi, Kenya – In a recent coordination meeting organized by the Eastern Africa Reproductive Health Network (EARHN), experts emphasized the crucial need for cross-sectoral strategies to mobilize domestic resources for reproductive health in Eastern Africa.
Comprised of seven countries – Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda – the EARHN plays a pivotal role in advocating for improved policy, funding, and visibility of reproductive health and family planning outcomes in the region. The meeting was co-organized by the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) and Partners in Population and Development Africa Regional Office (PPD-ARO).
According to a press statement made available to Nthanda Times, African governments have the potential to make significant progress in healthcare provision and meet global and national targets for reproductive health and rights by integrating population, health, and environment policies.
Dr. Rose Oronje, Head of AFIDEP’s Kenya Office, shed light on the poor reproductive health outcomes prevailing in Eastern Africa. Shockingly, none of the seven EARHN member countries have come close to meeting the SDG target of reducing maternal deaths to 70 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The maternal mortality rates range from 1,223 deaths per 100,000 live births in South Sudan to 238 deaths in Tanzania per 100,000 live births.
Dr. Oronje attributed the limited access to quality health services to the inadequate investments in health made by Eastern African governments.
“None of the EARHN member countries has met the Abuja 2001 commitment of allocating at least 15% of their annual government budgets to health, despite being signatories to this declaration. Shockingly, countries like Uganda are spending as low as 3.1% of their budget on health in 2020.
“When it comes to reproductive health (RH) expenditures, the majority of countries are performing dismally. Burundi leads the pack by spending 28% of its health expenditure on RH, while South Sudan trails behind with a paltry 9% of its health expenditure dedicated to RH in 2020. This dismal expenditure on RH explains the persistently high numbers of maternal deaths and the alarming levels of teen pregnancy, among other issues,” she explained.
Dr. Oronje urged immediate action to bolster domestic health financing, underscoring that without increased government funding, achieving universal health care would remain unattainable.
Adding to the discussion, Patrick Mugirwa, Programme Manager at PPD-ARO, acknowledged that Eastern African countries possess robust policies promoting access to quality reproductive health services and information for women, girls, adolescents, and young people.
He however said the challenge lies in effectively implementing these policies highlighting that the current economic situation has hindered progress in the healthcare sector, further emphasizing the urgency of implementing strategies to enhance domestic health financing.
“The current economic situation has eroded the limited progress made in improving the healthcare sector. It is imperative that we put into action strategies that will bolster domestic health financing. Without increased government funding for the health sector, universal health care will remain an elusive goal,” Mugirwa stated.
Clive Mutunga, Director of AFIDEP’s BUILD Project, which is funded by USAID and focuses on integrated family planning, reproductive health, and population, environment, and development, called for cross-sectoral approaches that recognize the interconnectedness of health and family planning/reproductive health with other development sectors such as the environment and climate change.
Mutunga highlighted successful integration initiatives in Madagascar, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and the Philippines, where better health outcomes were observed when environmental initiatives were combined with health programs.
During the 13th coordination meeting, held on May 30-31, 2023, experts focused on finding solutions to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) and the targets for reproductive health outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs).
They emphasized the significance of Target 3.7 of the SDGs, which aims to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services by 2030.
The integration of reproductive health into national strategies was identified as a crucial step in achieving this target.