Recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights claimed that Malaysia’s poverty rate at 0.4 per cent was inaccurate, and pointed out an indication of poverty rate between 15 to 20 per cent was more realistic.
From the layman’s view point on the street, we see many hardly surviving with their meagre income till the end of the month, many people flocking to government health facilities until the health care staff are totally overwhelmed, many children who are poorly nourished despite living among the cities’ skyscrapers, in particular the segment termed the urban poor, and many who have just too many mouths to feed but are hardly surviving.
Poverty is a result of many factors among them, lack of education, large families, lack of job opportunities, low economic productivity and ill health.
Critical to reversing all these factors is access to sexual and reproductive health care. Prioritising the sexual health care of adolescent girls and women in particular give rise to many economic benefits.
A girl who is able to complete her education unhindered by unplanned pregnancy, for example, can continue to contribute to society by further job training, be an expert in her area of work, increase her productivity and earn much higher income. She can also enjoy higher quality of life which in turn can encourage creativity, ingenuity and further the nation’s pool of talent.
A women unhindered by unplanned pregnancy can similarly stay in the work force longer, contribute more to productivity and better able to afford childcare with a smaller family. Many women are able to lead in complex fields and become key opinion leaders in their area of expertise. Women’s contribution to a double-income family in the household often leads to better quality of life for themselves and their families, and in turn, better educated children with a more rewarding future for each child.
For all these to occur, we need to start with comprehensive sexual education in schools imparting critical and accurate information to all student. On the same note, emphasis must be placed on critical family planning services, training of health care professionals in contraceptive provision, and community engagements on the importance of planned pregnancy for all women and their families.
When families are smaller, there are less dependents for each family to take care of. Women are better able to contribute to the critical workforce. When women are healthy, with each pregnancy carefully planned, the economic benefits are tremendous. This is termed the economic dividend, which can contribute to significant economic growth in the nation.
In short, access to sexual and reproductive health care and in particular, family planning, is one of the most effective and cost efficient means of tackling poverty.
Government, policymakers and the public must place family planning and sexual and reproductive health as the central tenets of all our policies.
By prioritising the reproductive health of women and girls, only then will Malaysia see a healthier, more economically advanced, and vibrant society surpassing what even Vision 2020 ever envisioned.
Dr John Teo is a obstetricians & gynaecologist based in Sabah.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.