Portrait photo of director

Ian Askew, Director, Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research including UNDP-UNFPA-UNICEF-WHO-World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction


Happy new year! I hope that the last few weeks have offered some moments of pause and rest. At HRP we are energized, determined, and very much looking forward to continuing with you the important work of ensuring that every person can achieve the highest
possible level of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the disruption to national health systems it has caused, has expanded the scope of our work at HRP – but also refocused global attention on the challenges of gender inequalities, protecting human rights and reducing inequities in access to services. These are challenges which
have always characterized HRP’s work.

For example, on the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women in December, HRP and WHO introduced the RESPECT implementation package with UN Women. This emphasises the continuing need for our work on prevention of violence against women and management of its health consequences – at the same time as highlighting new resources on addressing gender-based violence in the context of the pandemic.

Recently we launched Right To A Better World, a documentary
series produced by HRP and WHO in partnership with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Oxford Human Rights Hub (OxHRH). This powerful series explores how tactics developed by the human rights movement are crucial for achieving
sexual and reproductive health rights. Health is a human right, and Right To A Better World has many powerful stories to tell of how human rights frameworks can strengthen the effectiveness of global efforts towards the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development.

Many of us are experiencing that feeling of life ‘on pause’ because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this is especially true for children and adolescents. The pandemic is disrupting their education, interfering with their friendships and relationships,
and – especially for girls – increasing their domestic work and care obligations. For some, it is increasing their vulnerability to abuse and violence. HRP and WHO have worked with UNFPA to develop a technical brief titled NOT ON PAUSE: Responding to the SRH needs of adolescents in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, with practical guidance on what can be done to provide adolescents and young people with comprehensive sexuality
education, as well as other SRH interventions.

This is, of course, a long-standing challenge and I was very glad to speak at a recent webinar with other UN and government representatives, as well as several youth representatives, launching the first International Technical and Programmatic Guidance on Out-of-School Comprehensive Sexuality Education. HRP and WHO are especially pleased to have contributed evidence from our research for this important
document.

Infertility is a social and public health problem that is all too often neglected and stigmatised. More affordable, accessible and acceptable services are needed urgently to address infertility worldwide, as this new research from HRP and WHO shows. I am very glad to say that the infertility Guideline Development Group met online late last year, taking major steps towards developing this long overdue global guidance which
should help countries to develop and improve services and care for the millions of people living with infertility and its consequences.

On Universal Health Coverage Day in December, we celebrated the launch of the WHO UHC Compendium of Health Interventions and highlighted the importance of integrating sexual and reproductive health services into national UHC planning. Colleagues in Burkina Faso and Thailand shared how they are achieving this, and in some cases even raising the level of service provision during the pandemic – very inspiring. 

December was also an exciting month for our collaborative work in striving to mobilise a new era of maternal and perinatal health, in which women’s values and preferences are at the centre of their own care.

At the December FIGO Africa Regional Kigali Congress we introduced the Antenatal Care Portal, a ‘one-stop shop’ for evidence and tools to support country adaptation and implementation of WHO ANC recommendations. This will
be a be a key link between policy-makers, health workers and women and will be regularly updated, reflecting our ‘living guideline’ approach to maternal health.

We also launched the new Labour Care Guide and accompanying User’s Manual, tools for putting the WHO recommendations on intrapartum care into practice. The Labour Care Guide revises and replaces the traditional WHO partograph, an important step forward in evidence-based, individualized
labour care. 

Our community is saddened by the recent death of Dr Alexander Kessler,
HRP’s co-founder and first director in 1972. Alex’s dynamic and determined leadership, and his truly global commitment to improving the lives of people around the world, live on through HRP’s commitment to rigorous research, international
cooperation and sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. 

2021 begins with some much-needed positive news, as the United States commits to remaining a Member State of WHO. In particular, we celebrate the announcement of support for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in the United States as well as globally, and the revocation of the Mexico City Policy.  

Still, before turning the page on 2020, I encourage you to visit HRP on Twitter and join us in looking back at some of the highlights from this challenging year with the hashtag #SRHR stories.
Thank you for your collegiality, your expertise and support. It is wonderful to see how, as a global community, we pulled together and did much to support sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.





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