Integration - HIV/AIDS, Reproductive Health Supplies

Missing in Action: Sexual and Reproductive Health in Zambia

The rainy season is coming
to an end here in Zambia and the early morning sun floods the car as we pull
through the front gate of Professor Nkandu Luo’s house in Lusaka to join her
for breakfast. Luo is the former (and outspoken)
Minister of Health who now leads two Zambian nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs) tackling HIV/AIDS and women – the Society of Woman Against AIDS in
(SWAAZ) and Tasintha,
the only local organization focused on helping women leave commercial sex work. It is a survival strategy for many women in
countries like Zambia with weak economies and high unemployment.

“Reproductive health has
been left behind. We can’t fight
HIV/AIDS unless we center it within sexual and reproductive health. The majority of those affected by and living
with HIV/AIDS are women, especially young women in Zambia,” she thunders. Zambia’s draft reproductive health policy—first
proposed ten years ago by Luo during her tenure leading the Ministry—remains
untouched. It was never finalized nor implemented
by her successors.

During this time,
HIV/AIDS treatment became the rallying cry for donors and broader sexual and
reproductive health (SRH) issues were sidelined. “We forget that our HIV prevalence rate of 16
percent means that 84 percent of Zambians are presumed HIV negative. Yet HIV prevention and SRH services were
abandoned. We’ve lost a lot of ground
there,” Luo laments.

Since then, Zambia has
made little to no progress in women’s reproductive health and rights. The rate of maternal death in Zambia is
unbearably high and has defiantly climbed upwards. Lack of access to obstetric care and
transport, compounded by the paucity of midwives, doctors and other trained
health care workers throughout the country are to blame. The high incidence of unsafe abortion—due to
weak family planning/reproductive health infrastructure on the front-end and
non-existent safe abortion services when and where needed— also conspire to
create this sorry state of maternal health.

Preliminary findings from
the 2007 Zambia
Demographic and Health Survey
(DHS) are due out next month. Professor Luo and others believe the
long-overdue DHS will show more of the same. “There’s a lot of hand-wringing about mothers
dying of preventable causes, but no real money, no concrete action to address
this catastrophe. It is to our nation’s
shame that we sit and do nothing while our mothers and daughters die.”

Stay tuned for more news
from Zambia

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