You are currently viewing Winners should prioritise reproductive health
FILE: A youth friendly corner in Nkumbi, Lusaka is given advice on sexual reproductive and health rights. YOUTHPOLICY.ORG

Winners should prioritise reproductive health

POLITICAL campaigns in Zambia are coming to a close today as the nation goes to the polls tomorrow.
All parliamentary candidates have said what they had to tell the electorate as they canvass for votes.
But one issue which has largely been missing from their messages is sexual reproductive health.
Ironically, their campaigns have mostly been characterised by messages on how they will deal with infrastructure development in their constituencies.
This has brought to a head the seemingly lack of concern for sexual reproductive health issues among many politicians in Zambia.
On his part, President Lungu has shown leadership in denouncing gender-based violence by promoting family values during the campaign.
For instance, the head of State did not hesitate to withdraw the high status of ambassador in the fight against gender-based violence he conferred on Clifford Dimba alias General Kanene after the musician allegedly brutalised a woman in Lusaka’s Chawama not so long ago.
Zambia is facing pressing sexual reproductive health rights issues (SRHR), which some activists had hoped politicians would spell out plans of action once elected.
Issues the country is grappling with include child marriage, access to age-appropriate sexuality information, access to youth-friendly SRHR services and facilities, early sexual debut and attitudinal barriers and harmful cultural practices.
However, these issues have seemingly been ignored by politicians from various political parties.
Although candidates have attempted to relate their messages to their respective party manifestos, issues on sexual reproductive health have not been discussed at political rallies.
Joshua Ng’andu, the Patriotic Front candidate for Magoye, said he would encourage sexual reproduction, inter-alia family planning for the health of a mother.
“I shall find a way of educating my constituents on their rights so that they can exercise them within the laws of Zambia. I shall fight HIV and AIDS by continued supply of drugs in clinics and education in schools, work places and communities,” Mr Ng’andu said.
Akalemwa Mukuka, the MMD candidate for Mwandi parliamentary seat, said he is discussing SRHR issues.
“As we touch the various sectors eg, when I talk about health care, I also talk about HIV and AIDS. When I talk about school and job creation, I mention early marriages and unwanted pregnancies.”
Former Deputy Minister of Health Christopher Kalila, who is aspiring member of Parliament (MP) for Lukulu on the UPND ticket, said campaign messages have prioritised issues of bread and butter.
He said issues of SRHR will be looked at when people are voted into office.
His sentiments were echoed by Frank Kufakwandi, the aspiring UPND MP for Sesheke who also said candidates focused on the bread and butter issues which are the priority issues.
“Human rights are the main thrust of the new Bill of Rights but, unfortunately, the document is not widely circulated. HIV and AIDS are being addressed when we discuss issues related to the need to improve health delivery systems and services in the constituencies,” Mr Kufakwandi said.
Former Minister of Health and one-time Mumbwa legislator Brian Chituwo said: “I think why these important issues are not being discussed is due to the fact that our people, particularly in rural areas, walk long distances to clinics, schools, inadequate/delayed farm inputs, lack of dip tanks.”
Gwembe district commissioner Alice Mwiinga, who is aspiring MP for Moomba in Monze district, said the electorate have no knowledge about sexual reproductive health issues.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) feels a leader at all levels needs to appreciate the importance of recognising, respecting and promoting rights, including those around sexual and reproductive health.
“SRHR must be put on the development agenda, so the challenges need to be addressed. Good leaders are those who champion rights and empower individuals, communities and society to realise these rights,” PPAZ director of programmes Henry Kaimba said.
He said opportunities are lost when there are no or insufficient platforms from which such issues can be addressed.
“Apart from the fact that the campaign period tends to be not adequate for candidates to address such issues, citizens’ engagement of their leaders-to-be is insufficient. There is no adequate exposure of the leaders to the public so that they are well known and their vision for the community and society appreciated,” he said.
Mr Kaimba said the media on the other hand tends to be polarised. He said debates are not a major feature of the campaigns.
“Candidates’ positions on issues are therefore not adequately articulated and defended. Many radio programmes we have listened to tend to feature parties separately and are mostly characterised by attacks on opponents,” he said.
By and large, the missed opportunity is, therefore, that Zambia faces challenges in availing good platforms where issues including those around SRHR can be articulated by politicians and civic leadership aspirants.
If this is addressed, political and civic leaders-to-be will have more focus on development issues.
HIV and AIDS activist Manasseh Phiri has registered his disappointment at the fact that throughout this campaign period, none of the political parties seems to have prioritised HIV/AIDS messages.
Dr Phiri has noted political parties talking about building health centres across the country but wonders why there is emphasis on expanding infrastructure in this sector which lacks adequate manpower and drugs.
“HIV and AIDS should be very high for any government. We have a high number of people on treatment, we still have a very high infection rate,” Dr Phiri said.
On the issue of condoms in schools, Dr Phiri said: “As a country, we have not resolved the issue of pregnancy in young girls in schools because they are already getting pregnant.”
Commenting on the free anti-retroviral therapy which is administered by public health facilities, Dr Phiri said the issue of free treatment is not free at all.
Dr Phiri said politicians should have used the recent voluntary counselling and testing day on June 30 to speak about HIV/AIDS.
Angela Kawota, a Lusaka resident, said she has not heard any candidate mention the HIV/AIDS issue in their campaigns, except for emphasis on agriculture, infrastructure development, other health, education and economic issues.
Her expectations from campaigns was that since the country has passed the awareness phase, the youth expected issues of funding to improve the levels of nutrition and other support programmes, especially to those that are still in school and are coming from vulnerable backgrounds, since they are the future leaders.
A Kabwe-based HIV activist, Osborne Masawila, who has been dealing with adolescents and youths living with HIV, feels politicians have not done as expected.
“Their focus is only attacking each other’s personality. The issue of HIV is left out. The reason is that the crop of people [candidates] adopted have no interest in HIV issues from MPs to councillors. In their campaign messages, they are not talking of how they will address HIV,” Mr Masawila, who is director of Youths in Action, says.