Minister of Health, Donville Inniss listens attentively as Dame Billie Miller makes a point following the opening ceremony of the United Bations Population Fund’s (UNFPA)??consultation to mark World Population Day 2009 at??UN House, Marine Gardens. Looking on is Assistant Representative of the UNFPA, Isiuwa Iyahen.

World Population Day was commemorated today at United Nations (UN) House with a consultation on the theme: Responding to the Economic Crisis: Investing in Women is a Smart Choice: Family Planning is Smart Investment.

In addressing the opening session, Barbados’ Health Minister, Donville Inniss acknowledged that "no true developmental gains" could be attained "unless our people are healthy."??

He said: "Taking the long view, investing in women has infinite economic value since through their enhanced capacity they are able to make significant contributions towards nurturing their families; participating positively in their communities and ultimately creating the resources needed to achieve genuine national development of our people and our economy."

Noting that this year’s theme underscored the urgency of making family planning and reproductive health services available to all women, Mr. Inniss added, "investing in these services is essential, especially in times of economic uncertainty, if gains in health and development are to be maintained."

According to the Health Minister, while the new preliminary World Bank figures showed that official global development aid for health soared from US$2.9 billion in 1995, to US$14.1 billion in 2007, aid for population and reproductive health had increased much more modestly during the same period, from?? US $901 million in 1995, to US $1.9 billion in 2007.??

To this end, the Minister urged authorities worldwide to place reproductive health as a high priority, taking into account the negative economic impact when this aspect of health was not resourced adequately. He also assured participants that Barbados was committed to the provision of top quality healthcare "from the womb to the tomb," as well as maintaining a policy of a woman’s right to choose.

He stressed: "Access to reproductive health, in particular, family planning and maternal health services, helps women and girls avoid unwanted, or early pregnancy, unsafe abortions, as well as pregnancy related disabilities. Therefore women stay healthier, are more productive, and have more opportunities for education, training and employment, which, in turn, benefits entire families, communities and nations.?? Women must be empowered through the provision of quality health care services which are affordable and convenient."

Accepting that women were at the heart of development and controlled most of the non-financial economy (subsistence agriculture, bearing and raising children and domestic labour) as well as the financial economy, (trading, the informal sector and wage employment), the Health Minister noted: "Everywhere in the world women have two jobs – around the home and in the job market. The value of this work at home is unrecognised in many instances, and in all cases cannot truly be valued in monetary terms."

And, while he alluded to the integral role of men in reproductive health, he pointed out that some women still suffered great mental and physical abuse by men.

Mr. Inniss deemed this as reprehensible, and stated: "As a matter of fact, our interventions aimed at empowering women may be made easier and less costly if we were to spend more time and resources enlightening men on the salient issues of women’s development and rights. We must be focused on the development of women without diluting the significant roles and responsibilities of men. Society cannot do without both, we just need to find better ways to co-exist and to support and respect each other."

UN representatives also heard that Barbados’ policy to address population issues included partnering with the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) to provide a number of reproductive health and other services at an annual subvention of $1,050,000 and the provision of specialised treatment for young people, pregnant women and the population as a whole, through the polyclinic system, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the BFPA.

International aid agencies were themselves praised for lending assistance in this vein, and it was noted that over the past two years, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had provided training and technical assistance to the Ministry of Health, as well as male and female condoms for inclusion in first-aid kits for distribution.??

Acknowledging that the UNFPA had committed this year to providing 38,000 male and female condoms each, to Barbados, Mr. Inniss indicated: "Reproductive health services are provided for all persons, including the disabled, and again we are offered assistance through UNFPA in meeting the needs of this sector. This is done through the provision of technical support and assistance to the Barbados Council for the Disabled in the development of a sexual and reproductive health programme."

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