April 10, 2018

GGR: Nigerian women defend their sexual, reproductive rights

Maternal mortality

Cross section of pregnant women. FILE

By Sola Ogundipe

WOMEN seeking family  planning and allied health services for themselves and their babies are beginning to bear the brunt of the  expanded Global Gag Rule, GGR,  introduced  via presidential memorandum by US President Donald Trump.

The widely regarded anti-choice policy, also known as the Mexico City Policy,  blocks  funds to  organisations involved in abortion advice and care, however, Trump’s version of the GGR applies to the vast majority of US bilateral global health assistance, including funding for family planning, HIV, maternal and child health, malaria, nutrition, and other programmes.

Cross section of pregnant women protesting increase in maternal fees by Ondo State government in Akure.

Concerned parties had earlier warned that  slashing of funding by  the world’s biggest donor to family planning and women’s health programmes in developing countries  would portend dire consequences.

According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Trump’s gag rule could create a void and cause a shift that could impact millions of women and girls around the world that even the Foundation would be unable to fill.

“It’s likely to have a negative effect on a broad range of health programes that provide lifesaving treatment and prevention options to those most in need.”

The collateral effects will potentially endangering  lives of millions in Africa’s most populous nation.

Just last week, hundreds of pregnant women in Akure, Ondo State, took to the streets in protest against introduction of  higher levies for antenatal, postnatal and other   maternal health fees by the State  administration.

Several of the women  who called for reversal of the increase, accused the state government of insensitivity towards the plight of women that only fulfiling their biological task of childbearing.

“We are protesting the  levies. How can pregnant women be asked to pay   N25,000 for normal delivery in the government hospital? It is outrageous,“ said Mrs Tayo Olowo who is eight months pregnant.

Feyisola Akinseye, another expectant mother, complained that the women were  overtaxed.

“We are already paying for most of the hospital consumables such as syringes, cotton wool, gloves, drugs and all  required delivery materials among others, now this,” she noted.

While the state government excused the increment, it was  gathered that the upward review was not unconnected with dwindling funds from donor agencies towards the state’s Agbebiye Maternal Health programme introduced by the previous administration in the state.

Reacting to the development, Mrs Uche Daoudu, the CEO Global Health Foundation, Akure, described the protest as  a sign of the times.

“When you look at it, what they are protesting is reasonable, but not unusual however knowing what is happening in Nigeria right now, and also globally particularly in relation to the global gag rule.”

Unconfirmed reports said the state government was compelled to take the measure, amongst others, following withdrawal of funding support for the successful maternal and child programme that once drew attention of the  World Bank.

“It is in the effort to increase the state’s Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, so as to maintain qualitative healthcare.

“It is true that the cost of medical services has increased but it is duty of government to ensure that the interest of women is protected.”

The  Executive Director,  Centre for Women & Children Development,  Mrs Olanike Dare, said  introduction of such  policies would only worsen the  already precarious  maternal health indices in the state and country as a whole.

“As a woman I am against this increment.  Why increase the burden of women who are already weighed down by nature and socially by society’s problems?

“In Nigeria, health care workers generally consider the Trump administration’s decision not just to block funding for abortion services, but also cut resources for contraception and family planning programmes as a vicious cycle.

“Without contraceptives, there can be no effective family planning programme, and without proper contraception,  more unintended pregnancies and  ultimately, more unsafe abortions are recorded.”