HL Deb 17 April 2002 vol 633 cc937-9

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they are supporting sexual and reproductive healthcare in developing countries.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, sexual and reproductive healthcare in developing countries continues to be a key priority for the Department for International Development. Achieving universal access to reproductive health for all by 2015 underpins our approach. Good reproductive health is of course also vital to achieving millennium development goals related to lowering maternal mortality and combating HIV/AIDS. DfID's total bilateral expenditure on sexual and reproductive health activities, including HIV/AIDS, has risen from £38 million in the financial year 1997–98 to over £206 million in 2001–02.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. Does she agree that educational programmes for girls and women are often successful in improving sexual and reproductive health? Can she tell the House what her department is doing to enable such programmes?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. Educational programmes are vital for girls and women because they are an essential vehicle for the promotion of gender equality, which lies at the heart of trying to ensure safe sexual and reproductive healthcare practices. The Department for International Development is working with respect to education in three areas. First, it is working on addressing the gender inequities in basic education. Noble Lords will know that we are committed to the millennium development goal of achieving gender equity in primary education by 2005. The second area is the development of skills-based health education. For example, in Kenya we are supporting the Primary School Action for Better Health programme. Thirdly, I refer to the area of adult education, in particular the work that we are undertaking in literacy for livelihoods.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the noble Baroness has said that this subject is a key element of DfID's responsibilities. Can she enumerate briefly what are the other comparable elements of DfID's responsibilities to which she has referred?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, noble Lords will know that since 1997 our policy, enshrined in the White Paper, is to work towards the eradication of world poverty. In that respect, we are committed to the Millennium Development Goals which include the halving of poverty by 2015, gender equity in education, and elements of health and education which relate to sexual and reproductive health, as well as to maternal mortality.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister think that sufficient information about sexual diseases, including HIV, is provided to Britons visiting developing countries? The problems of HIV are very serious. Furthermore, is she aware that not enough health education is provided to the general public here in Britain?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness's question goes slightly wide of the Question, but I shall endeavour to respond to it. Obviously, public awareness with regard to HIV/AIDS is very important indeed, not only domestically but also with regard to those travelling abroad. We have sought to make information available through our travel advice. For example, there is a "Know Before You Go" campaign on the FCC) website which seeks to ensure that British travellers understand the key facts that they need to know about the countries to which they are travelling. However, I agree with the noble Baroness that raising public awareness remains a key concern.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, does the Minister agree that what might be helpful in speeding up this cause would be for Mr Derek Wanless to be hired to prepare a report? The report could then be considered by the UN Conference on Population and Development to be held at the World Summit on Sustainable Development. A good firm copy of that report should then be sent to the Government of the United States of America.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in Johannesburg at the end of July this year will form a key part of this process. If we are talking about sustainable development and if we are talking about poverty elimination., then we must also talk about health-related issues, including the severe impact of HIV/ AIDS, focusing on the negative impact that it is having on countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, which I fear will not be able to meet the Millennium Development Goals. This issue remains important in terms of the international agenda.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton

My Lords, following on from the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, what steps are the department taking in terms of both healthcare and education to help those people who are most at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, such as prostitutes?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, we are working in three areas in this respect. We are targeting interventions to high-risk behaviour groups, including commercial sex workers; we are looking to combat sexual tourism and the wider issues related to that; and we are very concerned about the growing practice of human trafficking, including that for sexual exploitation. Those are the three areas where we are looking to help girls and young women, who are particularly vulnerable.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, what is being done to prevent female circumcision?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, again, this subject is wide of the specific Question. The noble Baroness will know that we are working in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, she will also know that work is being carried out in the United Kingdom. My noble friend Lady Rendell, in particular, has asked a number of Questions in the House on that issue.