KENYA – Reproductive Health Policy postponed for improvements called for by reproductive health and human rights groups 

“The Ministry of Health has suspended the launch of the Reproductive Health Policy 2022-2032 and agreed to go back to the drawing board after pushback from a section of Civil Society.

“The Ministry on 6 April 2022 met with stakeholders from the reproductive health and human rights sector to discuss key reproductive healthcare interventions that members of civil society highlighted as missing or problematic.

“Jedidah Maina, Executive Director at Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) said: ‘As champions of sexual and reproductive health and rights, we commend the Ministry for opening up the policy development process, and committing to ensuring an inclusive and participatory process. However, we continue to emphasize the need for a Policy that substantively speaks to the needs and priorities of all Kenyans, leaves no one behind and promotes the right to the highest attainable standard of health including reproductive health.’

“The session, moderated by Dr Stephen Kaliti, Head of Reproductive and Maternal Health at the Ministry of Health, comes a week after a section of Civil Society held peaceful protests in Nairobi and Nakuru County demanding a halt to the planned launch of Reproductive Health Policy 2022-2032.

“The protest culminated in the submission of a petition to Afya House highlighting reasons why the current policy was not inclusive of women in all their diverse reproductive health needs. ‘The Policy must include interventions on adolescent sexual and reproductive health that respect the best interests of the child. Adolescents have the poorest sexual and reproductive health outcomes nationally. 14.4% of adolescent girls aged 13 to17 experience sexual violence. There are an estimated 345,000 pregnancies among adolescents annually, the majority of them being unintended. Adolescent girls and young women account for 51% of new HIV infections. Any policy must take into account the evolving capacities of children to consent to their own treatment, and respect their right to health including their right to access health-related information.’

“The activists also urged the Ministry of Health to ensure the Policy is clear on how to handle cases of safe and legal abortion as guaranteed in Article 26(4) of the Constitution.

“Head of Family Health Department in the Health Ministry Dr Isaac Bashir said: ‘Our goal is to have a consultative and participatory discussion where everyone should be free to air their views. This is a national document and concerns every Kenyan. If we have to go back to the drawing board, then that’s what we will do. I just want to make it clear that the Ministry is here to listen.’

“Lisa Owino, Programme Officer at Kenya Legal & Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) said: ‘Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality and morbidity in the country. The current lack of policy direction has a chilling effect on medical providers, who are in constant fear of harassment and arrest for provision of safe and legal abortion services. Women and girls are unable to access information on when, how and where they can get safe and legal abortions. This creates a breeding ground for the continued operation of quacks to the detriment of public health.’

“Dr Stephen Kaliti, Head of Reproductive and Maternal Health at the Ministry of Health invited written submissions from the civil society on the problematic issues, to be reviewed and incorporated in a new draft within 45 days.”

[NOTE: These discussions and the agreement to make improvement follow less than two weeks after the High Court ruling on the abortion law, to bring it in line with the Constitution of Kenya.]

SOURCE: KBC, by Claire Wanja, 7 April 2022