Why SRHR needs to be included in UHC design and implementation

Why SRHR needs to be included in UHC design and implementation

"Investing in SRHR has proven to be affordable, cost-effective, and cost-saving" is the opinion of Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Sigrid Kaag. 

During the United Nations' (UN) High-Level Meeting (HLM) on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) on 23 September 2019, she delivered a joint statement on the importance of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) to achieve UHC and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Aidsfonds applauds her resolute speech that truly addresses the critical importance of all women, including young women and adolescent girls, to have full access to the sexual and reproductive health services they need and their rights met. Without it, there will simply be no UHC and the "leaving no one behind" principle of the SDG framework will be empty rhetoric. 

Mark Vermeulen, Executive Director of Aidsfonds: "We applaud the Minister's strong stance on the importance of SRHR. In times of heavy opposition against sexual rights, which is affecting a strong and effective AIDS response, we need more global leaders to speak out about these fundamental rights."

This year's UN's General Assembly (UNGA) marked the first to include a HLM on UHC. The theme of this meeting was 'Universal Health Coverage: Moving Together to Build a Healthier World'. It offered an important opportunity to advocate for an inclusive approach to health that covers all essential elements of an effective AIDS response, including SRHR. Women across the world who are not able to look after their sexual and reproductive health, are at high risk of contracting HIV. For women already living with HIV, the lack of accessing comprehensive SRHR services increases the risk of unplanned pregnancies, abortions and sexual and institutional violence.  Furthermore, violation of sexual rights further exacerbates the ongoing stigma, discrimination and marginalisation many of these women are confronted with on a daily basis. With the full inclusion of SRHR within UHC packages, these risks can be significantly reduced, and, ultimately eradicated. 

Kaag addressed in her speech the importance of SRHR in 4 points. 

1) "We strongly believe that SRHR is an integral part of Universal Health Coverage and the SDGs." 
SHRH should be an integral part of UHC and needs to be of ample quality, accessible, and free of stigma, discrimination and violence. 

2) "Investing in SRHR has proven to be affordable, cost-effective, and cost-saving."
Investments have to be made to make SRHR affordable to all that need it and to decrease the strain on health systems. 

3) "Gender-related barriers to accessing UHC must be addressed, including by direct involvement of women, adolescents and marginalised groups in policy and program design."
A community-led approach makes the difference in reaching the SDG targets.  

4) "Investing in comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in UHC is necessary to address the needs of women, girls, adolescents and people in the most marginalised situations who need these the most."
A focus needs to be put on the poorest and most vulnerable groups in UHC programmes to foster gender equity and equality, empower women and leave nobody behind. 

The speech of Minister Kaag is especially crucial in a context of the ongoing battle at the UN which is described by some as "a battle of words that is being fought over a woman's body". Statements such as the one delivered by the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of countries such as Iraq, Poland, Hungary and Brazil make this blatantly clear. The statement says that "we do not support references to ambiguous terms and expressions, such as sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN documents, because they can undermine the critical role of the family and promote practices, like abortion, in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by UN agencies. Such terms do not adequately take into account the key role of the family in health and education, nor the sovereign right of nations to implement health policies according to their national context. There is no international right to an abortion, and these terms should not be used to promote pro-abortion policies and measures".

At Aidsfonds we are committed to work with the Dutch government, other like-minded governments and all our civil society and community partners to fight back and work towards the design and implementation of a UHC that is inclusive, rights-based, and contributes to healthy and empowered lives of women and marginalised communities. 

Continue reading

  • Read the official statement of Sigrid Kaag
  • View our work with Get Up Speak Out (GUSO) for Youth Rights improving SRHR of young people in 7 countries
  • Follow us on Twitter to stay up-to-date on our activities
  • Sigrid Kaag’s joint statement was delivered on behalf of Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cap Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom and Uruguay

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