NEW YORK, 3 APRIL 2002
STATEMENT BY HE. Mr. FRANCISCO SEIXAS DA COSTA, AMBASSADOR AND PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF PORTUGAL TO THE UNITED NATIONS, TO THE 35th COMMISSION ON POPULATION AND DEVELOPMENT (Agenda Item 4 - General debate on national experience on population matters: reproductive rights and reproductive health, with special reference to HIV / AIDS)
Allow me, firstly, to congratulate you and your fellow bureau members for their election to the 35th Commission on Population and Development, discussing the important issue of reproductive rights and reproductive health, with a special focus on HIV/AIDS.
The work of this CPD allows us not only to evaluate the implementation of some of the principles and objectives of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and its follow-up, but also should be taken as an important step in the monitoring of the Millennium development goals and targets, as well as those contained in the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.
Portugal fully supports the statement made on Monday by Spain, on behalf of the European Union, and at this stage, would like to share with you some of our national experiences regarding population and development, as well as on this year’s theme.
In Portugal, the Constitution promotes equality between men and women and states that all citizens shall have the same social dignity and treatment under the law. Also, as is mentioned in the Report of the Secretary-General E/CN.9/2002/3 (paragraph 26), Portugal amended its Constitution to make the provision of family planning a State obligation. Among other equal rights legislation, the Law on the Education system guarantees equal opportunity for both sexes.
The provisional results of the National Population and Household Census taken in 2001 found that the total resident population of Portugal rose to around 10,355,824 people, up an estimated 5% from the level measured during the 1991 census. Of that total 4,999,964 are men and 5,355,860 are women, with a slight majority (about 53%) being in the 25 to 64 age range. A strong positive balance of international migration was responsible for the high growth of the population.
The ageing ratio in 2001 was about 103 older persons aged 65 and over per 100 young persons (under 15 years old). The ageing population results in a strong decline in fertility rates and longer life expectancy. Life expectancy at birth is now 79,4 years for women and 72,4 years for men, with women outliving men an average of 7 years.
Since the beginning of the 1980’s, the total fertility rate in Portugal is below the replacement level of generations. These low rates are related not only to the fact that women are now spending more time in the educational system, but also that the jobs that they choose are more demanding. Although the age of both men and women at first sexual experience is lower, so is the age for the first use of contraception.
Both men and women are marrying and having children progressively later. The average age of marriage has risen to 27,5 for men and 25,7 for women in 2000. Women are also having their first child later, with the average age of first-time mothers at around 26,5 in 2000, which is 2,9 years older than in 1981. The average age of women at childbirth also increased 2 years over the same period, 28,6 in 2000 against 26,6 in 1981. The proportion of children born out of wedlock has increased sharply, from 9,5% in 1981 to 22,2% in 2000. There has also been a reduction in infant mortality to 5,6 per 1000 live births.
The Portuguese government policy considers family planning to be a human right and part of a healthy life-style, and not a population policy measure. Each individual couple is free to choose what contraceptive method to use. Free access to all types of family planning services is open to everyone regardless of age or socio-economic status. The treatment of infertility is also considered part of family planning services. Abortion, with the consent of the pregnant woman, is not penalized in certain, restricted circumstances related to the health of either the mother or of the fetus, or to the violation of the pregnant woman’s sexual freedom or self-determination.
Allow me now to focus on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Presently we have 18,995 notified cases of HIV/AIDS (2001) The estimated number of cases are between 25,000-45,000 HIV infected individuals. 50% of the notified cases of HIV are related to intravenous drug use, followed by 27.4% which are related to heterosexual transmission. Men are the most affected by the epidemic, representing almost 80% of the total number of reported cases.
Portugal is deeply committed to fight the AIDS pandemic at all levels. The national AIDS programme has been functioning since 1985 funded with significant resource allocations from the budget of the Ministry of Health and through a percentage of lottery earnings.
The National AIDS Commission – Ministry of Health has established priorities in its 2001-2003 Strategic Plan for the Fight against AIDS, which lie within the broader concept of the achievement of the objectives and actions of the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.
Continuous and adequate information regarding HIV/AIDS, accompanied by the provision of condoms, is provided to the general population – particularly to the most vulnerable groups - in culturally and linguistically appropriate context.
HIV/AIDS and other STI-related education has been mainstreamed within the broader context of health education, using a sustainable and trans-generational approach. This has been accomplished through the introduction of these matters into the curricula of both teachers and students.
Portugal, within the context of a harm reduction policy, has had in place since 1993 a needle and syringe exchange program which has exchanged over 25 million syringes. This program functions through the voluntary participation of more than 87% of all pharmacies around the country. The syringe kit includes other safe injecting material and condoms.
We are presently implementing a nation-wide network of voluntary HIV counseling and testing services. This network, which is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2002, is integrated into existing health centers and service providers throughout the country in order to assure anonymous, confidential and free HIV testing.
Despite recent decreasing trends, the incidence of tuberculosis in Portugal is still nearly three times above the European average. In order to further decrease the rate of transmission and the emergence of drug-resistant strains, we are presently promoting a “Direct Observed Therapy” addressing both HIV/AIDS and TB in a combined approach with drug substitution programs. These programs were created to address the specific links existing between HIV/AIDS and TB in Portugal.
Regarding HIV/AIDS diagnosis and treatment, the Ministry of Health assures universal and free access to all initial and follow-up diagnostic procedures and to anti-retroviral therapy, which has contributed to a decrease in mortality and significant reduction in hospitalization.
And finally, the National AIDS Commission and the national Lawyers Association established a protocol providing free legal support to all those discriminated against due to an HIV-related situation.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.