Women Deliver: Integrating sexual and reproductive health with HIV services

Photo by mileamneWomen Deliver 2010, a global conference taking place in Washington from June 7-9, is focusing on the theme of ‘Delivering Solutions for Girls and Women’.

It aims to generate political commitment and financial investment for fulfilling Millennium Development Goal 5, to reduce maternal mortality and achieve universal access to reproductive health.

Sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS advocates are teaming up at the conference to find innovative ways to give women more control over their health.

Debate has raged for decades about the advantages and costs of integrating health services. And as we place greater emphasis on strengthening health systems, there is renewed pressure to integrate them.

A panel of leading international figures in health systems, sexual health and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS discussed these critical issues during the Chairman’s session 'Integration: Is it the holy grail?'

Steven Sinding, Senior Fellow at the Guttmacher Institute and on the board of trustees of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, moderated the session.

Michel D Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund said the Millennium Development Goals 4, 5, and 6 are indivisible.

He said HIV, TB and malaria directly cause 1.1 million deaths a year among women aged 15-59 years and 1.2 million deaths among children aged 0-14 years. HIV is a leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.

HIV and malaria are among the most common indirect causes of maternal deaths. HIV prevention and care are core elements of sexual and reproductive health, and gender inequities are a common underlying barrier to improving women’s health.

Professor Kazatchkine further emphasized that the Global Fund has been investing in the health of women and children since inception and has addressed maternal and child health by accelerating PMTCT (preventing mother-to-child transmission) scale-up; 2.5 million people received ART through Global Fund support programs of which approximately 60% are estimated to be women; cumulatively 790,000 HIV positive pregnant women have received ART to prevent mother-to-child transmission thus also averting 82,000 HIV infections in children and 104 million insecticide-treated bednets have been distributed, saving170,000 children.

By investing in women, we are investing in the health and development of families, of communities and ultimately, of entire countries.

Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, spoke about the broader integration of health into development programmes. She said linking services such as HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health, microfinance and savings would empower women and girls.

Joy Phumaphi of Botswana, a consultant with WHO, World Bank and Gavi, stressed the provision of full and comprehensive holistic services for women and children. She said the challenge is to plan and finance development programmes and to ensure that these really happen. The inability of the global community to integrate and act together could lead to failure of the MDGs.

Nils Daulaire, Director of the Office of Global Health Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, said that Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. has made improving health around the world a top priority.

The President’s historic six year, $63 billion Global Health Initiative expands and builds upon existing programs and incorporates what we’ve learned in the last decade to generate measurable, sustainable outcomes.

It embraces the global commitment to improving maternal and child health by expanding efforts to make pregnancy and childbirth safer, increasing education of family planning and reproductive health, and strengthening health systems to better respond to the needs of women and girls.

Tore Godal, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Norway, stressed his country's commitment to reduce the mortality rates of pregnant women and young children in poor countries.

Increasingly, advocates believe Millennium Development Goals 4 (to reduce child mortality), 5 (to improve maternal health) and 6 (to combat major disease including HIV) must be tackled together.

Unless experts in sexual and reproductive health - including maternal and child health (MCH) - and HIV join up and take an integrated approach, rather than addressing each MDG separately, progress will be further delayed.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS