Forum tackles women’s sexual health
THE Office of the First Lady, in conjunction with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health, yesterday held a high level forum with women in leadership positions at AVANI Maseru Hotel.
The forum was meant to generate consensus on areas that should be prioritised in efforts to reduce escalating maternal mortality. It also sought to find ways to increase access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including HIV prevention, as well as safeguarding adolescent mothers.
In attendance was a host of high profile women, including First Lady ‘Mathato Mosisili, Speaker of the National Assembly Ntlhoi Motsamai and Education Minister Mahali Phamotse, among others.
In her opening remarks, Ministry of Health Acting Principal Secretary, Mamoruti Tiheli, said young women faced many challenges related to sexual and reproductive health.
“The mortality rate for women in Lesotho is very high at 1 155 in every 100 000 while 15 percent of deaths occur in girls below the age of 20,” said Ms Tiheli.
“As women of child-bearing age, it is our responsibility to change these shocking indicators which also see Lesotho ranking in second place worldwide in terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence.”
She said little progress had been made in addressing these challenges which were also compounded by such factors as poverty, low household incomes and early marriages hence the convening of the meeting.
“Women decision makers and leaders play a decisive role in influencing the development of policies and strategies addressing access to basic education, health care and combating HIV/AIDS which, in turn, brings about change,” Ms Tiheli said.
Among the objectives of the forumwas increasing political will and creating an enabling socio-economic, political and legal environment for women and girls to exercise their reproductive health and sexual rights. The forum also explored the strategic role of women decision makers and leaders to find ways by which their engagement could be enhanced to reduce maternal mortality and HIV infections among adolescents.
Speaker after speaker from various areas of expertise highlighted the need for the sharing of information and more concerted interventions in addressing the reproductive needs of women. During the plenary and small group discussions, it was revealed that first time mothers were the most at risk in terms of maternal mortality, with sepsis, abortion and hypertensive disorders also among the major causes of death.
Some of the delegates resolved that abortion should be legalised to ensure it is done by trained professionals to reduce mortality. They also called for more vigourous campaigns to inculcate the use of contraceptives to avoid unplanned pregnancies.
On her part, Ms Mosisili urged the attendees to translate the information they had gathered into practical action.
“Everybody has to pull up their socks and apply themselves where they can. We are all from different communities and diverse backgrounds, so resolutions should be understandable to everyone,” said the first lady.
“We also need to bear in mind that among the biggest challenges we face include some religious and socio-cultural outlooks. We need to break those barriers so that community leaders see the value and need to educate both men and women about combating maternal mortality and HIV infections.”
Ms Mosisili continued: “There is still a long way to go with regards to educating young mothers about the importance of going for checkups after delivery as they would still be at risk.
“Adolescent girls should be able to tell their elders that they are pregnant rather than keeping it secret or resorting to illegal abortions. Adolescents also need to be made aware of the repercussions of unsafe sex or early sex debut, and open communication plays a crucial role in that regard.”