On the 9th day of 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), the Vanuatu Ministry of Health supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has launched three key documents that are renewing its commitment to the sexual and reproductive health and rights of the Vanuatu families.

Silas Bule, Minister of Health appreciates the donors who have stood by the Ministry and continued to support the Ministry in meeting its priorities.

“To the Australian Government, the European Union, and UNFPA, my Government and I are very grateful for your continued support”, said the Minister.

These documents directly respond to and address sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the health sector’s role in the response to gender-based violence.

They include a Health Facility Readiness & Service Availability (HFRSA) assessment report, the Reproductive, Maternal, New-born, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) Policy, and the new Strategy and Implementation Plan and guidance for health workers for the clinical management of rape, sexual violence and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). These are very important documents that contribute to ensuring Vanuatu families have access to quality, equitable and responsive health services.

The HFRSA report supported by Australian AID through the Transformative Agenda (TA) provides a national picture of the health sector from a nationwide assessment of public and private facilities, focusing on sexual and reproductive health services. The assessment measured key performance indicators, including the availability of trained staff, key guidelines, equipment, and medications to provide essential services to the people of Vanuatu.

The services assessed included family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, childbirth, sexual health services, and health system support to survivors of gender-based violence.

Significant gaps and opportunities for impact were identified across the health system, which informed the new Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health policy, strategy and implementation plan of the Ministry of Health, and informed system and capacity development and investment at national, provincial and facility levels.

The RMNCAH Policy, Strategy and Implementation Plan again supported by Australian Aid (DFAT) through the TA responds to the Society Pillar 3 of the National Sustainable Development Plan and Health Sector Strategy to support the achievement of a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable Vanuatu in which all people, especially women, children, young people, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, and those living in rural areas, enjoy a high quality of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being.

The policy addresses the provision of equitable access to affordable, quality health care throughout a person’s life-cycle, and their autonomy to make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health, birth-spacing, and health-protecting behaviors.

This policy provides a roadmap of priorities to improve systems, services, and practices to guide development and investment in the health of families and individuals across Vanuatu.

In the first steps of implementation of the RMNCAH Policy, Strategy, and Implementation Plan, the Ministry of Health has developed guidelines that specifically respond to the clinical management of rape and Gender-Based Violence (GBV). The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for health workers supported by the Spotlight Initiative and funded by the EU clarify the clinical care and referral processes between all stakeholders who support survivors of GBV and identify linkages between services provided by both the Government and Civil Society or Non-Governmental Organizations.

The guidelines begin the process of ensuring health facilities can meet some of the minimum services for responding to GBV, which were recognized to have significant gaps in the HFRSA.

“As we celebrate, in the next few more days, around the theme of “Orange the World”, at the Ministry of Health, we are extremely humbled that we can begin to take decisive and informed steps toward the goal of ending violence against women, and to do that now”, added the Honorable Minister.

The Ambassador of the European Union for the Pacific and to Vanuatu, Sujiro Seam welcomed the development of Vanuatu’s first-ever National Standard Operating Procedures for the Clinical Management of Rape, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.

Mr. Sujiro said that this important step could be taken thanks to the joint efforts of the European Union and the United Nations to provide political and financial support for the Spotlight Initiative in Vanuatu. “Governments, civil society organizations, communities, and other partners work together in the framework of this program to promote gender equality, prevent violence against women and girls, and increase access to quality response services for survivors”, he said.

The European Union is strongly committed to gender equality, the empowerment of women of all ages, and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls around the world.

UNFPA Pacific Representative and Director Dr. Jennifer Butler acknowledge the Vanuatu Ministry for taking such a thorough approach for improving the lives of individuals and families across Vanuatu.

“The impact on countries in the region will be significant and will shape RMNCAH policies across the region, collectively transforming the rights and access to services for women and adolescent girls across the Pacific”, said Dr Butler.

She said that the visionary policies, strategies, and implementation plans are essential to positively change the trajectory of the lives of women and adolescent girls so they may live lives of dignity, with the autonomy to make informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health, birth-spacing, and health-protecting behaviors for families and individuals. “It is inclusive, reaching those furthest left behind, and fully integrates the needs and support of persons with a disability, which is crucial to recognize today, on the International Day for Persons with a Disability”, added Dr. Butler.

Dr. Butler concluded by saying that the fully funded and resourced RMNCAH policy, strategy, and implementation plan will positively impact the lives of families today, and the future of Vanuatu tomorrow.