5 Nov 2013

American sexual health advocacy group says Pacific 'woefully underfunded'

6:18 pm on 5 November 2013

An international advocacy group says the Pacific is woefully underfunded when it comes to family planning and reproductive health.

Population Action International, or PAI, is a privately funded organisation working to increase women's access to contraception around the world.

Its president, Suzanne Ehlers, spoke at a New Zealand Family Planning conference this month.

She told Amelia Langford the Pacific's need for investment in family planning is often overlooked.

SUZANNE EHLERS: Our interest in the Pacific is probably shared with many actors here. It's an overlooked region. It's fallen completely off the donor radar screen. The issues for women, children and their families in the Pacific are incredibly challenging. So as we look, PAI, at the global level, to influence trends and to keep policy attention where it should be and to have donors put their resources where they're most needed, it's really important for us to understand some of the really unique challenges that a region like the Pacific faces.

AMELIA LANGFORD: Tell me about some of those challenges that need to be overcome.

SUZANNE EHLERS: Well, part of it is the agenda is simply unfunded - underfunded, I should say. There's about US$30 billion to fully meet the needs of women around their sexual and reproductive health and rights. $10 billion of that - a third - should come from donors. And we know that the Pacific region is woefully underfunded, not only by donor countries in this region - like New Zealand, like Australia, like Japan, but really by other global donors - government and private alike. So that's one key issue. The other is that there's just simply - because of the nature of the Pacific - geographic challenges of working in this region, and quite honestly, lower population numbers. So countries that aren't as riveting as Nigeria and India and China, it simply doesn't kind of hit the radar in a way. And yet if you look at individual women, wherever they are in the world, the problems that the women in the Pacific are facing are sometimes as harrowing, if not even more challenging than what women are up against in sub-Saharan Africa. And that's violence against women, that's lack of economic opportunity, inability to attain education. And as a part of all that and a driver of all that opportunity - either missed or realised - is whether or not a woman has the ability to plan and space her family and control her sexual and reproductive life. And that is happening here in the Pacific and in this region just like it's happening in so many other places of the world.