SA bows to US muscle on universal health declaration

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The US steamrolled a coalition of more than 50 countries – including South Africa – to remove key phrasing about sexual and reproductive rights from the world’s first declaration on universal health coverage, says a report on the News24 site. UN member states have signed the final declaration in New York City, which is the product of months of behind-the-scenes battles between countries over the exact wording that heads of state ultimately sign onto.

The report says sexual and reproductive health was just one of several contestations that ultimately led to what some say is dangerously watered-down language on what universal health coverage should mean. The final declaration’s omission of the term “rights” from wording around sexual and reproductive health was spearheaded by a US-led coalition of 19 nations, including Nigeria, Brazil and Egypt. Activists allege that the removal of sexual and reproductive rights from the text allows countries who oppose services such as abortion or comprehensive sex education to continue to undermine people’s ability to choose when and if they have children.

The report says in 2017, US President Donald Trump reintroduced the country’s Mexico City Policy, also known as the global gag rule. The law allows the US government to cut funding to organisations if they perform or promote abortions abroad, regardless of whether this is done with or without US money. In March, the country expanded these prohibitions to, in theory, gag smaller organisations who may get any type of funding – US or not – from larger bodies who are already gagged.

Early indications from health policy watchdogs are that this may be affecting grants from other large international donors such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria.

The report say at the recent high-level UN meeting, Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation Sigrid Kaag hit back, saying true universal health coverage must include access to health services such as termination of pregnancy and family planning as part of people’s sexual and reproductive rights.

Kaag was speaking on behalf of 54 countries including South Africa and others across Africa, Europe and Latin America. She explained: “Comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services is necessary to address the needs of women, girls and adolescents and people in the most marginalised situations who need these the most.”

News24 report UN Declaration

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