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Inter Press Service, August 29, 2004

New Priorities to be Set at London Meet

LONDON, Aug 29 (IPS) - A London conference of non-governmental organisations will set ''clear and coherent'' new priorities to take forward the agreements on reproductive health reached in Cairo ten years back.

The follow-up moves in London will mark a ''statement of priorities for the next decade,'' president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Steven Sinding told IPS. The IPPF is the world's largest NGO providing reproductive health services.

The London conference 'Countdown 2015' marks the half-way point between the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and the target date for implementation of the agreement.

''Since governments were not getting together we decided we will not let 20 years pass without a serious look at what has been achieved, and set priorities for the next decade,'' Sinding said. Reproductive health includes primarily family planning, sex education, safe motherhood and protection against sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS.

Half-way along, funding for reproductive health is about half of what it should be at present. ''By 2005 we should have had 18.5 billion dollars committed to reproductive health,'' Sinding said. Donor countries have contributed only about 40 percent of what they committed themselves to, while the developing countries governments have done a little better.

Countdown 2015 has been called by organisations at the receiving end of the funding. The conference cannot of itself take decisions to multiply the money they receive. But several leading government representatives will attend the conference, and they are expected to carry a strong message to their governments.

The conference comes just ahead of meetings called at the United Nations General Assembly Oct. 14 to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference of Population and Development. The outcome of the conference is expected to strongly influence on decisions taken within the UN.

''Governments rely on NGOs both in the south and in the north for expert input into policy decisions and for statistical evaluation of the situation,'' Marie Stopes International's external relations director Patricia Hindmarsh told IPS. Marie Stopes is a major NGO providing reproductive health care in 37 countries.

But given the fact that the pledges at the UN conference in Cairo have fallen behind, ''serious questions are being asked about the UN,'' she said. ''Big international agencies like the UN and donor governments want to work with southern governments. They believe that the southern governments must have ownership of the developmental process, that groups in the north should not be jetting in and doing it.'' But this policy raises issues for several NGOs.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been a major problem, often because of the demands of the governments in these countries. ''ACP countries (a group of 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific nations) seem to want infrastructure, not reproductive health care. There is not the political will to put enough money into curbing infant mortality. Donor governments are giving less and less. Developmental funding is flat or declining.''

For anything to change on a large scale, ''active lobbying is needed to get governments to meet their financial commitments,'' she said. ''At this conference various elements of the Cairo agreement will be discussed and strategies worked out to take the campaign forward.''

New strategies will also be discussed that had not been anticipated in Cairo. Countdown 2015 will be divided accordingly into three kinds of sessions.

The first type will be three plenary sessions looking at three broad themes: changes in the global environment since Cairo, the issue of culture that would include Islamic and Catholic positions and east-west and north-south issues, and on science and technology issues such as sex selection, cloning and other bio-ethical issues.

The conference will secondly explore ten themes of special interest such as HIV/AIDS and reproductive health, the role of men in reproductive health and the contraceptive supply gap.

Thirdly the entire membership has ''self-selected into ten working groups on different themes,'' says Sinding. Each group will prepare an agenda of action that will run into a maximum of two pages. These will add up to a ''clear and coherent statement of priorities by NGOs for the global community,'' Sinding says. The conference will also adopt a declaration at the end.

The NGOs can do no more than lobby, but they intend to lobby hard.

<< Inter Press Service -- 8/29/04 >>

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