HL Deb 07 July 2004 vol 663 cc792-4

2.57 p.m.

Viscount Craigavon

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What contribution the position paper by the Department for International Development on sexual and reproductive health and rights will make in combating HIV/AIDS.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos):

My Lords, the Department for International Development position paper provides the basis for continuing action and investment to promote reproductive health and rights. It highlights the crucial links between sexual and reproductive health and rights and efforts to prevent HIV and AIDS. This will also be reflected in the forthcoming HIV and AIDS strategy.

Viscount Craigavon:

My Lords, I am grateful for that helpful Answer. Does the Minister accept that when her colleague the Secretary of State launched the document yesterday the language he used, and the language of the document, was extremely welcome and showed DfID's renewed emphasis on this subject? Does she accept that if most of the millennium development goals are to be reached we need a significant input from reproductive health? Does she agree that, where appropriate, reproductive health services should be integrated with HIV/AIDS services?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Viscount is quite right. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development talked about the importance of the link and made the point that by taking action on sexual and reproductive health we know that we are also helping to tackle HIV/AIDS. This is the continuing emphasis of the work of the department.

With respect to the issue of the millennium development goals, sexual and reproductive health contributes to progress on those goals relating to maternal mortality, child mortality, HIV/AIDS, gender equality and poverty reduction.

Baroness Whitaker:

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the serious obstacles to achieving sexual and reproductive health, and even more to combating AIDS, is the lack of ability in women and girls to insist on safe sex or even, if they want, no sex? How can DfID help their societies to foster that power?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. We need to ensure that women and girls are informed. We also need to ensure that the governments in those countries take this issue seriously and that there is leadership from the top. Research by the World Health Organization shows the importance of informing girls and women. Sex education often delays the age at which young people start having sex and increases safer sexual practices.

Lord Fowler:

My Lords, I strongly welcome the efforts that the Government are making on HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa. Does the Minister recognise that to have full authority to lead they need to be doing their utmost at home as well? Is she aware that at the moment many health workers in this country feel that the efforts being made in the UK to combat HIV/AIDS and sexual health problems generally are seriously inadequate?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that we need to take action on the domestic agenda as well. We have seen that the number of individuals infected through heterosexual sex has been increasing steadily although gay and bisexual men remain the group most at risk. The noble Lord will know that since 1996–97 the Department of Health has funded the Terence Higgins Trust for national HIV health promotion for gay men delivered through the community. We are also looking at the implications for those groups coming into the country. The noble Lord will know that the size of the group of those people coming into the country already infected with HIV/AIDS is larger than that of those infected here in the UK. We need to look at both, which is precisely what the Government are doing.

Lord Chan:

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the group most affected by lack of reproductive health services is newborn babies? Three million newborn babies die every year. Will the Minister inform us of what is being done to improve clinical services in developing countries for mothers in childbirth and newborn babies in order for them to have better survival? Better survival of babies would mean that parents are more likely to reduce the size of their families.

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chan, raises a very important issue. Of course we are looking at the issue of mother-to-child transmission. However, we also need to look at building the health systems and structures in the developing countries themselves. There has been a great deal of focus on prevention and treatment. However, in addition to that, if we do not have adequate health structures in the developing countries to enable treatment to work or our prevention strategies to be understood, we will face a much greater problem.

Baroness Northover:

My Lords, will the noble Baroness please congratulate the authors of this excellent report on, among other issues, tackling head on the problem of unsafe abortions? I hope that the Government will be as brave in international fora on that. Following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, I wonder whether DfID is going to produce a paper on how best to take forward the promotion of the rights of women and girls. If we are to combat high maternal mortality and the higher incidence of AIDS among women, surely that is the key.

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Baroness may be aware that this report complements other reports. We will be doing another report on HIV/AIDS which will come out in July, and we have already done reports on health and on maternal mortality. So the papers will complement each other. I thank the noble Baroness for the points that she makes on the link that the report makes to unsafe abortions. The Government are absolutely clear: we do not want to see women having to go down that road. But where women do opt for abortion, they need to be safe.

Baroness Masham of Ilton:

My Lords, what can be done about the traditional medicine men's advice to men with HIV that they should have intercourse with a young virgin in order to cure themselves?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, we have to ensure that there is proper information sharing. We need to look at countries such as Uganda where they have managed to reduce the prevalence by leadership not only from the top, from the president, but throughout communities, where people do not feel afraid to talk about these issues. That is the only way in which we can deal with the myths and stereotypes that abound around HIV/AIDS.

Baroness Rawlings:

My Lords, following the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on the very good report which the Secretary of State has produced, and which I support, the current number of AIDS orphans in the world is 14 million and growing. Future projections claim that this number could reach 40 million. What resources are Her Majesty's Government setting aside to help to provide these orphans with the resources and support that they will need?

Baroness Amos:

My Lords, the noble Baroness may be aware that we have been incorporating our concerns about orphans and vulnerable children into our country programmes. In Malawi, for example, we have been working to ensure that social protection measures for families affected by HIV/AIDS are integrated into the poverty reduction strategy. We will address this issue also in the forthcoming AIDS strategy.

Baroness Lockwood:

My Lords—

Lord Patel:

My Lords—

Noble Lords:

This side!

Lord Grocott:

My Lords, I think the simplest way to resolve this is to say, "We are now in the 18th minute. Next Question!".

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