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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - An introduction to Lift’s sexual health issue from senior writer Kounila Keo

An introduction to Lift’s sexual health issue from senior writer Kounila Keo

After working as a journalist for several years and consuming news media for many more, I have discovered that the coverage of politics has received more importance than that of reproductive health in Cambodia.

I have observed that many Cambodian journalists have heard or written relatively little about the issue of reproductive health. Therefore, it makes the issue almost unheard of in Cambodian society.

The basic function of the press is to inform, entertain and above all else, educate the society we live in. In this matter, while it is a powerful tool that can change public opinion, the media can play an important role in reinforcing long-term prospect of sustainable growth by providing enough coverage or disseminating information related to reproductive health which our people need to be informed about.

Reproductive health, is considered a by the media at large to be a superficial topic according to female journalist participants from Asia and Africa who spoke at a seminar in Washington DC last year. Articles about mother and child, youth, environment, domestic violence, early marriage and population control, are still considered ‘soft news’ and when written are often tossed to ‘unimportant’ sections of newspapers.

While I think this is unfair, there are a lot of things which I believe Cambodian media both in English and Khmer can do to improve the well-being of Cambodians.
It is hugely important for our society to be educated in the basics of reproductive health.

The statistics for a woman’s risk of death from pregnancy or child birth in the underdeveloped world are shocking. In developed countries, 1 in 7,300 pregnancies end in maternal death, while in developing countries the ratio is an appalling 1 in 75. Laos has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Southeast Asia at 1 in every 152. With 540 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Cambodia has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the region after Laos, with 660.

As part of the UN Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015, Cambodia has committed to reducing maternal deaths to 540 per 100,000. Beyond this problem, what Cambodia is confronting is complacency regarding the decreasing number HIV infection prevalence. In Cambodia, the number of new HIV infections has dropped from an estimated 15,500 per year during the peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s to about 2,100 last year, according to a report written by Cambodian experts working closely with the United States-based Result for Development Institute.

The media taking an interest in reproductive health is of the utmost importance for Cambodia. Issues such as early arranged marriage, unsafe abortions, sexual abuse, contraception and safe sexual practices need to be discussed and examined to ensure the well-being of our evolving culture.

There has been a healthy shift in the rural areas surrounding the issue of domestic violence. This is a good start, and I can only hope that with the media giving more attention to these other issues there will be good news to report on these subjects very soon.

The programme I attended in late 2010 is a new approach from the Population Reference Bureau which has targeted female journalists to make the concerns heard by policy makers of the respective countries and encouraged them to pay more attention to the issue.

On the global level, we can ask why it takes so long for these problems to be resolved in some parts of the world. It goes without saying that it depends on the commitment of each government and those who are involved in disseminating information such as the media to educate the people.

During the seminar I took, we agreed on one answer: corruption, poverty, and politics will were real constraints that kicked reproductive health aside, but it would not take long for us to find out how much impact reporting on reproductive can help address issues the government and policy makers are working on.

Media, is a powerful tool that can be used to educate people and improve our country’s future.

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