Global Policy Forum

Aid for Sexual Health Declining


By David Cronin

Inter Press Service
October 10, 2007

The European Union is "not delivering" on promises to increase aid for contraception and sex education in poor countries, family planning advocates have declared.
A policy paper titled the 'European consensus for development', which was approved by the EU's main institutions in 2005, recognised that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of drastically reducing extreme poverty cannot be achieved without improvements in access to sexual and reproductive health services. Despite that commitment, the EU's executive the European Commission is planning to spend an average of just 12 million euros (17 million dollars) specifically on sexual and reproductive health initiatives in poor countries each year between now and 2013. This sum is more than six million euros less than the average yearly allocation in 2003-06. This data, which does not include the Commission's support for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, was contained in a study published Oct. 9 by the German Foundation for World Population (DSW).

"Fighting AIDS is absolutely imperative morally and for fighting poverty," said DSW spokeswoman Karen Hoehn. "But family planning is too. European countries have shown such a consistent commitment in political rhetoric for family planning. There is no excuse for them not to provide funding." Many of the projects financed as part of the fight against AIDS are not directly related to family planning, Hoehn added. Over half a million women die from complications arising during pregnancy every year. Most of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70 percent of mothers have no contact with medical professionals following childbirth.

Anne Van Lancker, a Belgian member of the European Parliament, complained that out of 61 aid plans recently drawn up by the European Commission for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, just two list health as a focal sector. Earlier this year, the Commission cited 'division of labour' reasons when explaining why it had decided to prioritise aid for transport and other infrastructural projects over health and education. Aid activities undertaken by EU national governments tended to be more supportive of health, the Commission added. But Van Lancker was unimpressed by these claims. "We have heard echoes from Caribbean countries like Jamaica and from West Africa that governments wanted to have health as a focal sector (for their aid plans)," she told IPS. "But during discussions, they were told 'you can only prioritise two main sectors, so don't take health'."

Van Lancker suggested, too, that the heavy attention paid to macro-economic issues in the aid plans reflects the Commission's desire to sign free trade deals, known as Economic Partnership Agreements, with ACP states in the coming months. Yet she argued that the prospects of a country to achieve economic progress are "much greater when a woman can chose how many children she wants." "Every minute of every day a woman dies from complications from what should be the most life-affirming act -- giving birth," she said. "This can be prevented through education, information and ensuring access to family planning."

In 2001, the European Commission berated the U.S. for placing a ban on funding to health agencies that counselled women about abortion or campaigned for abortion law reform. Poul Nielson, then European commissioner for development aid, undertook to use EU finance to bridge what he termed the 'decency gap' caused by the U.S. decision. "The Commission was very visible for a time and was very dedicated to taking up its responsibility," said Van Lancker. "The focus and determination to deliver on commitments has been lost." Whereas the EU budget previously had a section dedicated to sexual and reproductive health, there is now a greater trend to hand over money directly to recipient countries, without earmarking it for specific purposes. "It is very difficult for us to track where money is going," Van Lancker added.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has estimated that less than 20 percent of all sexually active young people in Africa use contraception. Over 200 million women worldwide are believed to want to delay or prevent pregnancy, yet cannot do so, either because of social taboos or because they lack access to contraception. In 56 poor countries studied by the fund, women give birth to an average of six children, whereas women in the richest five countries tend to have three. "The lives of 150,000 women could be saved each year if they had access to services," said Sietske Steneker, the UNFPA's representative in Brussels. "Preventing an adolescent pregnancy can literally save the life of a young woman." She underlined the importance of education for tackling prejudice against contraception. "There is a lot of misinformation out there about how the HIV virus might pass through pores in a latex condemn," she said. "Objectively speaking, that is not true."

Neil Datta from the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF) noted that the amount of development aid given by rich countries to poorer ones fell by over 5 percent in 2006, compared to the previous year. Italy, Greece and Austria are the worst performers among the 15 countries that comprised the EU before its expansion eastwards in 2004. Although Italy is a member of the Group of Eight top industrialised countries, the level of its official development assistance fell by 30 percent last year. It has also failed to honour a commitment made by EU states to allocate at least 0.33 percent of gross national income to development aid. That had been set as an interim goal as part of a longer-term process under which 0.7 percent of its income would go to poor countries. "Europe is the most important donor in international development," said Datta. "Its member states and the European Commission account for nearly 65 percent of ODA (official development assistance). International commitments can be met or not met on the basis of decisions we make here in European capitals."



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