Recently, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights claimed that Malaysia’s poverty rate at 0.4% was inaccurate, and pointed out that a poverty rate of between 15% and 20% was more realistic.
Many find it hard to survive with their meagre income, they flock to government health facilities until the healthcare staff are totally overwhelmed, many children are poorly nourished despite living among the cities’ skyscrapers, in particular the segment termed the urban poor, and many have just too many mouths to feed and 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 healthcare. Prioritising the sexual healthcare of adolescent girls and women, in particular, gives 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 be 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 areas of expertise. Women’s contribution to double-income families in the household often lead to better quality of life for themselves and their families and, in turn, to better educated children with a more rewarding future.
For all these to occur, we need to start with comprehensive sexual education in schools, imparting critical and accurate information to students. On the same note, emphasis must be placed on critical family planning services, training of healthcare professionals in contraceptive provisions, and community engagements on the importance of planned pregnancy for all women and their families.
When families are smaller, there are fewer dependents to care for and women are better able to contribute to the 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 healthcare and, in particular, family planning is one of the most effective and cost-efficient means of tackling poverty.
The 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, Malaysia will see a healthier, more economically advanced and vibrant society surpassing what even Vision 2020 has not envisioned.
Dr John Teo of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.