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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5267

Senator MOORE (7:44 PM) —Last week in Bali a consultation was hosted jointly by the United Nations Population Fund and the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development. This consultation was looking specifically at the issues of maternal health and rights in our regions. The United Nations Population Fund, the UNFPA, is a United Nations institution, an international development agency that promotes the rights of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using strong population data for policies and programs to reduce poverty and, most importantly, to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every young person is free of HIV-AIDS. Most particularly for my concern, a huge feature of the UNFPA agenda is to ensure that every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. The Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development is the coordinating body of national committees of parliamentarians on population development across the world. The Australian Parliamentary Group for Population and Development is part of this network. The network across the world works to generate support and perpetuate cooperation among Asian parliamentarians and Asia-Pacific parliamentarians in the area of population development and the related fields.

Our work and that of the UNFPA is guided by the program of action which was adopted by 179 governments in 1994 at the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development. The 15th anniversary of that very important meeting is coming up in October this year. At that historic meeting delegates from all regions and cultures agreed that reproductive health is a basic human right and that individuals should be able to freely choose the number, timing and spacing of their children. They also affirmed at that meeting that the needs for education and health, including reproductive health care, is an absolute prerequisite for sustainable development over the longer term.

The ICPD objectives were very important in helping shape the Millennium Development Goals. Those goals, about which we have spoken many times in this group, are focused at reducing poverty and working as a world community to ensure that people will not be living in poverty by 2015. We have taken a bit of a look at how we are going on those goals, and every year the United Nations publishes a state of the world report. Whilst there has been wonderful progress in many ways, it has been identified that one of the areas where we are doing most poorly is maternal health, and that is a shame to all of us. In fact, on 17 June 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution which desperately—in UN speak, it ‘expresses grave concern’—naturally and importantly:

Recognizes that most instances of maternal mortality and morbidity are preventable, inter alia, through family planning, skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care, and that preventable maternal mortality and morbidity is a multidimensional issue

—I hate the word, but it actually gets across that it is not a simple issue—

that also reflects a failure to promote and protect effectively the ... human rights of women and girls ... to be equal in dignity, to education, to be free to seek, receive and impart information, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress ...

All those are things that we as a world community must commit to and move forward.

Millennium development goal No. 5 has now been divided into two parts because of the way that we have to move forward. Target 5.A is to reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio across our world and also, in part of that, to have a greater proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel. That is something we tend to take almost for granted in our community, but across the Asia-Pacific region and many other parts of the world there are so many births that do not have the benefit of a skilled health attendant, and it can make a huge difference to the survival of the mother and the child. We now have target 5.B, which is to achieve, also by 2015, universal access to reproductive health. That looks most clearly at effective contraception programs across our region. In this area we have failed dismally. It is something that we as a world community must acknowledge. We then must plan to achieve some forward action so that we can be sure that by 2015 we can meet the goals that we have agreed to.

This is not something that has been imposed; it is not something that is outside. This is something that we as a world community have agreed to on a number of occasions now, from the time that we joined together at the wonderful event at the United Nations, where the world community committed to the Millennium Development Goals, to reviews that have happened since then. Consistently governments have recommitted that they would take on their own plans of action that would engage with their communities so that we can be sure that all of the world will be able to be free of poverty—and in this case so that we can be sure that we can have safe and healthy births.

Unfortunately, the state of the world report has shown that over 536,000 women and girls die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or in the period immediately following delivery. That figure alone can actually make you stop breathing for a moment, because it is so confronting. However, the 536,000 may not actually be a full result of what is occurring, because we do know that the data that is being produced must be better researched and more sound. In fact, one of the issues that the UNDP takes up is the importance of having appropriate data. But we know that many thousands of women are lost through complications through birth every year. We also know that in our own area, the Asia-Pacific, we contribute to 44 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths. Several reports on the progress to achieving the MDGs in Asia and the Pacific have highlighted the fact that it is really unlikely, given the current state of what is happening, that we will reach the MDG No. 5 targets by 2015. Many women in these parts of the world go through a pregnancy uncertain of whether they will survive childbirth, which should be a time of joy. In fact, there is almost a fatalistic acceptance that a number of women will not be able to survive birth. Their child then may not survive as well.

We have seen through the UN information the horrific impact that the loss of a mother has on a family. We have data that shows what happens if a mother is lost through a childbirth death. The impact on and the potential terror for the rest of the family is great, because they do not have that central focus of their family to actually help them through life, to put to them opportunities, to help them access education, and to give them a future.

The whole Millennium Development Goals process is focused on having that equity of opportunity across the world. We have a clear opportunity to assist and work with our neighbours so that these maternal health issues can be addressed. The group that met in Bali last week is focusing particularly in our part of the globe, Asia and the Pacific. We have an opportunity to work in concert with those groups to provide strength and support. I know that AusAID has a very strong reputation in the area and its work to support communities in the Asia-Pacific region has been wonderful. Many of the countries and representatives from the UNFPA and regions spoke with great appreciation for the work AusAID has done.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a further amount of money for the maternal and child health areas. We will be working in future budgets to ensure that that commitment is maintained. We have a role to play to ensure that we will be able to speak at the next forum looking at these issues at the UN and say what we have been able to achieve in Australia and in our area to ensure all the Millennium Development Goals have future success. I hope that in particular we will be able to improve in the area of maternal mortality and cut the horrific number of women lost during childbirth. As was stated several times at the UN consultation, no woman should die in the process of giving life.