After a 16-year-long gestation period Guyana Thursday delivered a healthy Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) policy in the presence of international dignitaries, Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) executives, Ministry of Public Health functionaries and elated St Cuthbert’s Mission residents.
“We started earnest work in 2003…and Guyana has overcome several hurdles,” Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Shamdeo Persaud said, at the launch of the 44-page SRH document.
Dr. Persaud said the United Nations Family Planning Association (UNFPA) helped the Ministry throughout the gestation period to successfully deliver the ‘Guyana Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy: SDG3 Good Health and Well-being’.
Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence in the main launch address said, the new SRH strategy is designed for planners and policymakers and other key decision-makers and administrators responsible for primary healthcare issues.
Lawrence said the SHR blueprint gives leverage “without reserve” to all stakeholders.
Specialists in the field agree that sexual and reproductive health represents complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. According to them, SRH implies that individuals have a satisfying and safe sex life, can reproduce, and have the prerogative deciding if, when, and how often they have intercourse.
However, maintaining sexual and reproductive health presupposes access to accurate information and safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice, experts say.
People must be informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and also when to have children. Women must also have access to services that can help them have “a fit pregnancy, safe delivery and healthy baby,” a document on the World Health Organisation website explained.
Demerara/Mahaica Regional Chairman, Ms Genevieve Allen, lauded the SRH initiative which she said simultaneously will “improve the well-being of girls and women” while focusing strongly also on issues critical to male sexuality.
UNFPA stayed interested during Guyana’s marathon SRH pregnancy and, according to its Liaison officer, Mr Adler Bynoe, Thursday’s delivery signals the government’s clear intention to level the playing field and bridge gaps still existing in Guyana.
Thursday’s launch was a “fitting way” demonstrating Guyana’s renewed commitment to the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), when almost 180 governments adopted a Programme of Action calling for women’s reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development initiatives, Bynoe said.
“We are very proud of that…we have come a far way and can certainly complete the journey,” the UNFPA official said asserting the target groups’ right to make choices “free from violence”.
The strategy was necessary to help combat what was then “staggering rates of maternal mortality” among Guyanese women, CMO Persaud explained.
There were several iterations of Guyana’s landmark SRH policy which probed several nationally touchy issues including age of consent, child and forced marriages, sexual and reproductive issues of prisoners, special populations including persons with disabilities (PWDs), sexual minorities and indigenous persons.
There were several rounds of consultations with targeted groups including adolescent boys and girls;
youths; women and men; faith based organisations (FBOs); civil society bodies; Members of Parliament (MPs) and government agencies.
“The first draft focused heavily on the barriers, especially in the context of the rights-based approaches Guyana and the international community enshrined in the various conventions and global goals. But some enablers were also addressed and gains on the front end of confronting stigma and discrimination related to access to services and quality,” Dr. Persaud said in his overview of the effort backed heavily by the UNFPA.
The final version which was presented to Cabinet (and approved) included some policies related to special health areas including sexually transmitted infection (STI) malignancies, and infertility “which has once again emerged as an import area of concern,” CMO Persaud noted.
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