By Friday Simbaya, recently in Dodoma
TANZANIA is one of the seven countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region participating in a Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS governance funded exercise.
Apart from Tanzania, other countries participating in the project which is in its second year are Zambia, Angola, Lesotho, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, Tanzania suffers high adverse sexual and reproductive health (SRH) indicators including maternal mortality, adolescent births, mother to child transition of HIV, intimate partner violence, persistence of child and teenage marriages, girls forced to drop out of school due to pregnancy and low contraception prevalence.
According to the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), Communications and Advocacy Specialist, Moses Magadza, Tanzania has strong policy supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), HIV and AIDS but there is a gap in implementation.
Magadza made the statement during the SADC PF Capacity Development Session for Tanzania Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working on SRHR and HIV to Map out strategies for engaging the Parliament of Tanzania.
The workshop, which drew participation from various CSOs in Tanzania and the media, was held in Dodoma. The reason for involving civil society organization is that CSOs are diverse and work with communities on the grassroots.
The objectives of the workshop included enabling CSOs to better understand the SADC-PF SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance project, discuss and explore the appropriate modalities for increased CSO technical support to members of Parliament as they advocate SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance and begin to articulate and concretize action on key SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance issues.
He said the SADC PF enlisted the services of the Health Economics and HIV-AIDS Research Division (HEARD) based at the University of KwaZulu Natal to conduct baseline studies in the selected countries including Tanzania to appreciate the current levels of knowledge, attitudes, practices and other variables related to SRHR, HIV and AIDS issues.
The survey showed that the Tanzania has strong policy supporting SRHR and HIV and AIDS but there is a gap in implementation.
Based on baseline studies, Magadza said there exists a sound health infrastructure but the health facilities lack basic resources and are understaffed with insufficient skilled personnel in current posts.
The baseline studies showed that there are large inequities in health care access with the rural population (70% of the country population) being the worst affected.
“Tanzania has a relatively low HIV prevalence but high adverse SRH indicators. Women are disproportionately affected by HIV both on the mainland and in Zanzibar and insufficient attention is being paid to key populations (KPs), amongst whom HIV prevalence is high,” reads part of baseline survey.
Maternal mortality is high but Tanzania has successfully reached its country target for reducing the under 5 mortality rate – child mortality – 54/1,000; of concern are newborn deaths which contribute to 40% of all under-5 deaths – 21/1,000.
There is evidence of strong governance structures and resource mobilization for HIV but not SRHR. There has been limited implementation of comprehensive sex education in schools and condoms cannot be distributed at schools.
Assistant Director for legislative services, Suleiman Mvunye urged CSOs to engage the legislature as partners on SRHR project execution.
In a speech read on behalf of the Clerk of the National Assembly Dr. Thomas Kashililah assured CSOs that parliament had opened its doors to the public to add value to parliamentary process.
The Director of Programmes at SADC PF Ms Boemo Sekgoma said he SADC Parliamentary Forum considers SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance issues important and topical.
“Our view is that as CSOs you can be one of the keys towards success in advocating for universal access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance. We believe that together we can make a difference,” said Sekgoma.
She said there is need now to explore together with the CSO the possibility of CSO becoming a major force in ensuring that people realize their SRHR and have more access to HIV and AIDS governance initiatives in the shortest time possible.
Recently and while working very closely with Members of Parliament and some CSOs, we developed the first-ever SADC Model Law on Eradicating Child Marriage and Protecting those already in Marriage.
This was done at a regional level and we are looking forward to a time when member states can begin to adopt and adapt this new Model Law and use it to strengthen their national responses to child marriage and other related issues.
“Our expectation is that through this interactive training session, both SADC PF and CSOs will gain a deeper and broader appreciation with respect to who is doing what with whom and to share experiences with those working with Parliamentarians on issues related to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance,” said the Director of Programmes at SADC PF Ms Boemo Sekgoma.
After all, CSOs and Members of Parliament work with the people at grassroots level. We have therefore come here to have a conversation with civil society organizations around SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance and to learn from you what needs to be done, where and how soon to enable SADC PF, CSOs and the Parliament to move forward together.
As a Forum, we are keen to see CSOs and MPs joining hands, developing strategies, monitoring and reporting on mutually agreed priorities on SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance in Tanzania.
However, various key issues were prioritized by the CSOs on which they could co-design and develop strategic actions for implementation when Parliament was constituted and these included develop capacity of MPs on the importance of availability and accessibility of SRHR and Support MPs to advocate for increase budget on SRH at district and national level.
Others are to conduct media orientation session on the maternal mortality caused by Unsafe Abortion.
The media was identified as one of the key stakeholders that could be used in advocacy efforts as information can help in raising awareness in the area of SRHR, HIV and AIDS.
Participants therefore noted the need to formulate effective strategies in a bid to improve coverage of SRHR, HIV and AIDS and governance issues in the media.
The SADC PF is a Regional Inter-Parliamentary body comprising of National Parliaments of SADC Members States.
SADC PF is implementing a four year SRHR, HIV/AIDS Governance project supported by SIDA-Sweden to contribute to ending AIDS by 2030.
The project seeks to empower female parliamentarians and National Parliaments to advocate for Universal Access to SRHR, HIV and AIDS governance.