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Guyana drafting Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy

A section of the attendees at the GRPA’s launch of the the Vision 2020 of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

Guyana is crafting its Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy with assistance from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shamdeo Persaud announced on Sunday.

Addressing an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) under the theme ‘Advancing Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights for all Guyanese’, Persaud appealed to the public to participate in planned national consultations. Among those to be targeted are the homeless, youths, the disabled and coastal and hinterland residents.

“We would like that policy not to be a Ministry of Health policy but a Guyana policy where all parties are involved, all stakeholders,” he said at the event held at the Seawall Bandstand, Georgetown.

He said the strategy would take the country beyond 2015 by which time countries around the world are expected to record progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Persaud’s announcement was made moments after First Lady Deolatchmie Ramotar advised Guyanese to be realistic in dealing with pregnancies by un-married couples. “I, too, believe in marriage before sex, I also think that whatever one’s view of the ideal and striving for to achieve this, we must also be realistic. We must face reality and try to deal with it as best as we can,” she said.

The First Lady expressed concern about the lack of knowledge and continued refusal by parents and others to speak about sex has resulted in many deaths due to illegal abortions. “In the majority of cases, it is the poor and ill-informed who are affected the most.”

GRPA Praised

The Chief Medical Officer hailed the role that the GRPA has played since the first AIDS case was diagnosed here in 1986. He credited the organisation with significantly reducing the number of new infections.

“The GRPA stepped up to the challenge and partnered with the Ministry of Health and many other agencies and ensured that HIV was recognised as a threat to our country and to advocate for resources to put their efforts together with others to fight that disease,” he said.

Persaud noted that Guyana was on the verge of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015.

The GRPA, founded by the late Olga Byrne, was also lauded for assisting in reducing the number of unsafe abortions since the enactment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill in 1995. “GRPA has been steadfast in supporting that all the adequate regulations and provisions of that Act are adhered to so much so that unsafe termination of pregnancy, commonly known as abortion, is not a major cause of death among women as it used to be prior to 1995,” he said.

Vision 2020

GRPA also launched Vision 2020 of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), an international NGO, of which GRPA is an accredited Member Association. The IPPF works in 172 countries to empower the most vulnerable women, men and young people to access life-saving opportunities and to live with dignity. GRPA joins IPPF in its commitment to work towards the elimination of poverty, gender inequalities and injustices in ways that respect, protect and fulfill human rights of all persons.  
The IPPF Vision 2020 is a 10-point plan to put Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights at the heart of the international development agenda. It urges governments to meet 10 goals, among these are: reducing maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion by 75%, making comprehensive sexuality education available to all and recognizing sexual rights as human rights. By 2020, if an additional 120 million women and couples are given access to desired contraception options, 200,000 fewer women and girls will die in pregnancy and childbirth and 50 million abortions will be prevented. The GRPA was established in 1973 by the Guyana Women’s
League of Social Services (GWLSS) led by Ms. Olga Byrne, the Association’s first Executive Director.

The idea of the Association emerged within a context where access to family planning and maternal health information, education and services was lacking. Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights are linked to major issues facing Guyana, such as poverty, school dropout, domestic and sexual violence, homophobia, gender inequality, high risk sexual behavior, maternal mortality, cervical, breast and prostate cancer, STIs, HIV, and other health and social challenges.

The GWLSS responded to this situation, which they saw as critical to the advancement of women’s equality in Guyana. Today, GRPA is a leading organization in Guyana for sexual and reproductive health, combining medical services with counseling, education and other support programmes.

GRPA is also attentive to the situation of men and sexual and reproductive health with a call for men and boys to be more educated on these issues and to be partners with women in addressing SRHR concerns. The Association was awarded a National Award – Medal of Service in 2002 for providing service of a consistently high quality in the field of sexual and reproductive health, family planning and information and education vital to the prevention of STIs/HIV/AIDS.