Cross River launches Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Policy

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By Kelvin Obambon

Cross River has finally launched its Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Policy that is tailored towards meeting the needs of young people, who hitherto, were excluded from previous family planning policies.

The policy is a product of intense collaboration between the Cross River State Government and the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP), under the Sustaining Evidence Driven Advocacy (SEDA) project.

Speaking at the official launch of the policy in Calabar on Tuesday, the Commissioner for Health, Dr Betta Edu, who was represented by the Director General of Cross River State Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr Janet Ekpenyong, noted that although there was a family planning policy in the state, young people were however not accorded due priority, which therefore made the launch of the new SRHR Policy a welcomed development.

Dr Edu expressed satisfaction with the policy, noting that it will address the challenges posed by religion and culture on the uptake of family planning among members of the society.

She declared that the SRHR Policy would be implemented in a way as to create synergy with existing policies of similar nature in order to ensure effective actualization of their objectives.

On ensuring smooth implementation of the policy, Dr Edu assured that the state would leverage on existing structures in the healthcare delivery system to drive the policy to fruition, adding that government would take ownership of the policy to further ensure its sustainability.

The Commissioner therefore commended the IYAFP team and all stakeholders who work assiduously on the project, assuring them of the state government’s commitment to the successful implementation of the SRHR policy.

“You have done your homework well because you have been able to identify areas that have challenges around them such as religious and cultural barriers. I can see that you have the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Muslim community here represented. With this already you have solved most of the problems. I have heard the representative of the Muslim community really talking about how the Quran encourages family planning but out of ignorance a lot of people don’t know that family planning is actually acceptable even in the Bible. There’s no need for you to give birth to a child when you can’t take care of that child.

“This policy would help give us that guideline and of course help us to work seamlessly with the youths. I’m glad that so many organizations are here represented because this will also help in the policy implementation in the state. Be rest assured that we are committed to this and you will have our backing for the full implementation in the state. We will try and see how we can expand to other LGAs so that we can take this across the state.

“On behalf of the state, I want to thank each and everyone of you who have contributed to the development of this policy. We are really proud of you. And we are also proud that it is being spearheaded by young people themselves which would further make the youths buy into it. I want to say congratulations to you all as we continue to push for the acceptance and uptake of reproductive health services in Cross River State”, she said.

Giving a brief overview of the SEDA project and the journey so far, Miss Madonna Badom, an Advocacy Associate at IYAFP, said the SEDA project was an offshoot of the Empowering Evidence Driven Advocacy (EEDA) which followed a research carried out in Nigeria and across Africa.

According to Badom, “The research was carried out in three states in Nigeria – Cross River, Anambra and Abuja. We were very lucky that Cross River was part of the project. Through that research we found out that there have been so many interventions on family planning and on sexual reproductive health in the state, but these interventions have not been reaching out to young people, and that was where the Empowering Evidence Driven Advocacy birthed. It was handled by Miss Brenda Effiom and Mr Isaac Olufadewa. Through that project our advocacy objective was to have a monthly Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Day across PHCs in Cross River State. However, that objective was decided by the Commissioner but she said it wasn’t feasible and then we had a new objective which was the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Policy under the Sustaining Evidence Driven Advocacy.

“That was when Goodness and I led the team to have this policy. The first thing we did was to bring together a crop of stakeholders and CSOs who are working on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights and who are working with young people in Cross River State. I can tell you that it was a very good mix of experience of youths and people who are very passionate about SRHR. Through this we worked with the State Ministry of Health, the Family Planning Coordinator, the Commissioner for Health, the Director General of Primary Healthcare Development Agency, the Director of Public Health, FP supervisors in Calabar Municipal, Calabar South and Akpabuyo and we came together to agree that these were the policies we are going to domesticate to have the Cross River State SRHR Policy, and we picked five policies.

“After we did that we had a policy drafting meeting for two days at Girls Power Initiative center at Atimbo. Those two days we all sat down as stakeholders and wrote down the policies. It was a very intensive work we did to write down everything and we got a policy draft. After the policy draft, it was very unrefined we had to find a policy consultant to put everything in place – to dot all the i’s, dot all the t’s and made sure that everything in the policy was okay. After doing that we sent it to the Commissioner for Health, the Family Planning Coordinator, the Director of Public Health, and they all gave approval for it.”

Continuing, Badom said after the approval there was a validation meeting with stakeholders where it was ensured that the policy addresses the needs of young people with regards to family planning services in the state.

While throwing more light on the significance of the SRHR Policy, the Advocacy Associate said “It is a comprehensive guide on how to provide sexual reproductive health and rights to young people and adolescents. Sexual reproductive health and rights include things like information on menstruation, puberty, sexual violence, gender based violence, family planning. This policy now provides you with a guide on how to provide these services to young people because young people are dynamic and they are different from the general population. This policy will help our healthcare workers and CSOs on every intervention that is carried out on sexual reproductive health and rights in Cross River State.”

Another team member of IYAFP, Miss Goodness Odey while speaking with newsmen shortly after the the launch, said the SRHR Policy was prompted by the gap in the provision and accessibility of youth friendly services in Cross River.

She said although the state was doing well in providing family planning services, there were certain limitations on young people’s access to these services.

On how to assess the extent of implementation of the policy, Miss Goodness said “One beautiful thing we did in the course of the project was to set up an accountability group made up of Civil Society Organizations and as well as government body. Their role is to ensure that they serve as advocates for the implementation of this policy and at the same time they will synergize and work collectively.

“As much as the SEDA project officially comes to an end with the launch and dissemination of the policy, these stakeholders and we the young people who are involved in the process are still resident and actively working in the sexual reproductive health and rights space in Cross River State. Since the development of that accountability group, and even up to this point, there has been collaboration and synergy on improved sexual reproductive health and rights service provision and to seek ways to support the state ministry of health in the implementation. So with these two at hand it will take the work further for continuous advocacy and continuous support.”

Present at the launch were, the Director of Public Health, Dr Iwara Iwara; State Coordinator of Family Planning, Barr (Mrs) Lucy Enakhirerhi; Dr Felix Ukam, Policy Consultant and Executive Director, Centre for Healthworks, Development and Research (CHEDRES) and representatives of CSOs.

The event climaxed with the official launch and unveiling of the SRHR Policy document by the representative of the Commissioner for Health.