The Regional Parliamentarians Consultation of Asia Pacific nations on “Emerging Economies and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights” began here on Saturday amidst serious concerns over decreasing flow of funds to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) owing to the fiscal constraints in the European Union and other developed countries which contribute hugely to the Official Development Assistance (ODA).

The ODA growth is expected to slow down significantly in the next few years since the economic slump has hit the European countries more this time. In the present scenario, the worst affected are the sexual and reproductive health programmes in the developing countries of Asia Pacific region. Some of the countries like India, and China, are doubly disadvantaged because of their high economic growth, fast moving into the category of ‘helping’ Nations and playing a lead role in the South-South cooperation and, hence, expected to be less dependent on external funds. The political discontent in the Middle East and frequent natural disasters, too, has resulted in diversion of funds to meet with the immediate requirements.

According to Minar Pimple, Regional Director, Asia and the Pacific U.N. Millennium Campaign, the quantity of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) related to ODA in the Asia Pacific region has been rising from 2002 to 2009 but beginning 2004, majority of this assistance goes to sexually transmitted infections control including the HIV/AIDS (55 per cent in 2009), while the share of reproductive health care went down to 43 per cent (2002) to 32 per cent (2009), and that of family planning went down from 19 per cent (2002) to 9 per cent in 2009. Worse, the disbursement does not match the commitments made at the International Conference on Population and Development at Beijing. “There is also criticism that these recent funding initiatives targeting maternal mortality tends to reinforce policy and programmatic silos and hamper a holistic approach.”

India, with its not-so-impressive track record on child and maternal health (at least until now), too, presented its achievements in the field of reproductive and child health but said more “political will” from policy makers and decision makers to make health care accessible and give people a basket of choices when it came to sexual and reproductive health was a way forwards. Speaking at the meeting, A. Sampath, Member of Parliament, said empowerment of women, awareness about reproductive rights and zero tolerance for discriminatory practices including child marriage, and female foeticide were important to move forward.

Mr. Sampath is part of a four member Parliamentary delegation from India attending the consultations here. Other MPs are Viplov Thakur, K.P. Ramalingam and Shantaram Naik.

Neil Datta, executive director of European Parliamentary Forum on Population said that 70 per cent of the funds to developing nations were contributed by the European countries, but the funds actually meant for family planning or populations stabilisation were highly politicised and primarily based on the religious ideologies of the donor countries rather than the need of the recipients. In the health sector, the United States contributed a major part of the funds but very little actually went to sexual and reproductive health because emerging diseases such as HIV/AIDS have been the focus of attention.

Organised by the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) and in collaboration with the European Parliamentary Forum on Population (EPFP), the two day consultation will likely to come up with a statement of commitment to work for sexual and reproductive health rights with focus on ways to raise funds domestically to achieve the goals.