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Let’s Remember Bali

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Let’s Remember Bali

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Category : Naya Blog

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By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Three years ago hundreds of youth, civil society organizations and member states, descended into Bali, Indonesia for the Global Youth Forum to identify and discuss issues and priorities facing today and tomorrow’s generation of young people within the context of population and development so as to influence global agenda going forward.

The question that lingers however is whether we have realized the strides that we committed to?

On creating enabling environment for adolescents and youths, the government has actually done very little. A lot of young people still lack access to comprehensive affordable health services that are free from stigma, violence, coercion and discrimination. The sexual rights of young people are not fully protected. Young people are still forced into early marriages and female genital mutilation. Cases of gender based violence in the country is on the rise. We still have LGBTQI discriminated in the country and attacked. Minors and teenagers are being defiled and raped and the perpetrators walk scot free. The killings of sex workers is on the rise in the country. Youth participation in the country is not taken so seriously. Top down development approach is the order of the day. Youths voices are never heard.

Health education to adolescents and young people in the country is not actually reaching all the young people. Majority of the adolescents and young people don’t know their rights to staying healthy and yet It was agreed that the government was to provide non-discriminatory, non-judgmental, rights-based, age appropriate, gender-sensitive health education including youth-friendly, evidence based comprehensive sexuality education that is context specific.

We have less youth friendly services in the country more so in rural areas. In the conference it was agreed that Governments must provide, monitor and evaluate universal access to a basic package of youth-friendly health services (including mental healthcare and sexual and reproductive health services) that are high quality, integrated, equitable, comprehensive, affordable, needs and rights based, accessible, acceptable, confidential and free of stigma and discrimination for all young people but this is not happening at all.

On universal education, quality education, relevant education and inclusive education, we are still lagging behind. We still have young people still learning under a tree and in the burning sun. Education is not actually completely free in the country. We still have a lot of persons living with disability not going to school.

The financing of sexual and reproductive and health rights policies and programs in the country are not usually prioritized for budgetary allocation. Most of the county governments have not implemented the SRHR policies and programs due to the lack of political and financial commitment.

Although we have made some gains on gender equality in the country, Gender inequality is still rampant in the country. Women in the same profession as men are being paid less than men. This is rampant in the informal sector which is a hotbed of many women here in Kenya. We still have not yet achieved the one third gender rule. We can see men fighting women in making sure that this bill is eliminated. We still have women not going to school at all.

I call upon the government to be accountable and when it comes to matters that concern young people. We are the future of this country and we need to be treated with care.

Young people you need to get up and speak out now for a better tomorrow. We have a right to quality education and health care services. Reproductive health is a human right and we deserve to have it. We have a right to take part In public participation, ask questions and access information.we have a right to be protected from harmful practices. Stand up and speak out for a better tomorrow.

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Institutions of Higher Learning Need to Invest in Youth Friendly Services

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Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Despite the loud silence on issues abortion, incidences of unsafe abortion continue to rise, more so in institutions of higher learning. This is actually contrary to what most people think. Aren’t they supposed to be more learned and thus averse to risky sexual behavior that would make them require unsafe abortions? Aren’t they more aware of the effects of unsafe abortions such as bleeding, damage to organs, sterility and even death?

Truth is students in institutions of higher learning still do not have adequate access to comprehensive sexuality information and sexual and reproductive health services.

I was in Maseno University the other day for a dialogue on unsafe abortion and the statistics and testimonies were pretty shocking.

More than 50 girls had undergone unsafe abortion. Some of the incidences had been procured by medical students, many others by quacks on the outskirts of the university and yet others swallowed bitter concoction of tea leaves and concentrated juices to get rid of their pregnancies.

Although there were no cases of mortalities that the meeting heard, the psychological and physical effects of unsafe abortion demands that the strongest proponents and the strongest opposition agree on fundamentals of taking the agenda forward.

Now more than ever, we need youth friendly services in our institutions of higher learning. In most of our universities we only have hospitals and majority of its staff are old men and women whom the youths do not feel free to confide in. I am very sure that there are plenty of well-trained young doctors out there the government can employ in the university hospitals to attract more youths to visit such facilities for guidance and assistance. We also need to equip these hospitals with all the equipment and tools necessary for providing the highest standards of health including reproductive health care.

There is also need for more reproductive health programs that will help in creating awareness among the young people to practice safe sex at all times. Most of our young men and women in these learning institutions believe in sex myths.

Parents also need to have a sex talk with their sons and daughters. It has been proven that parent youth communication on sexual and reproductive health and rights actually saves lives. Yet most of the parents shy away when it comes to sex talk.

Young people are among the most vulnerable groups in the country and deliberate steps must be taken to ensure they are healthy and ready to play their part in contributing to Vision 2030 and other local, regional and global development agenda.

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Letter To The President

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Happy New Year Mr. President,

On behalf of young people in Kenya, we take this opportunity to wish you a great 2016, to remind you of your earlier promises and to bring to your attention our needs as young people.

On 20 October 2015, the Mashujaa day, the day set aside to honour our heroes, you gave a moving speech at Kasarani stadium. Your speech filled us with optimism and made us believe that it was not all lost for us as young people living in Kenya today.

Specifically on the fight against HIV/AIDS and maternal mortality, you said

“We have increased access of ARVs from 600,000 people in 2013 to 850,000 people today. Our target is to ensure that we cover an additional 600,000 people meaning 90% of Kenyans living with HIV will be given treatment. Our free maternity programme has also bone fruits. When we came to office 44% of women gave birth in medical facilities. At present 68% of our mothers are attending hospitals for child birth. In 2013 maternal mortality was at 488 per 100,000, this has declined to 310 per 100,000. Likewise the child mortality rate has declined from 72 per 1000 to 52 per 1000 today.”

Mr. President although there is a slight improvement, more still needs to be done. The supreme laws of our land guarantees all individuals the right to access the highest standard of health including reproductive healthcare. The number of Kenyan mothers and children who died due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications last year were just too much. The figures Mr. President, were totally unacceptable for a country like Kenya who prides itself in being a regionally giant. But the bigger question will be if we will let others die from preventable causes this year? Will it be the same narrative again? Few facilities and human power? Poor infrastructure? Poor budgetary allocation to health? Health workers Strikes? Stock outs?

We hope definitely not.

Access to life saving ARVs by persons living with HIV/AIDS including the forgotten populations like adolescents and young people and communities in rural areas is crucially important in improving the quality of life. Inadequate access thus limits enjoyment of human rights as stipulated in the constitution and other international, regional and national commitments.

Mr. President a healthy nation is a prosperous nation and is more likely to develop at a faster rate.

We call upon you to be a champion of health and prioritize the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. We call upon you to lubricate your words with action and improve the health of our people; not just as a human right but so that we can be able to contribute to realization of Vision 2030.

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Society Must be Objective in the Abortion Debate

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

It’s quite ironical that we men are the loudest wen it comes to what women do with their bodies, reproductive system and all other women’s sphere of life. Key among them whether or not women should give birth, whether or not they need to use contraceptives, how many kids they should have, how they should dress and of course the controversial debate around access to safe abortion.

Interestingly, views on access to safe abortion change depending on which side of the fence the men are. You remember Nerea from Nerea by Sauti Sol?

Sometimes the chorus sang by men  is that  abortion is a crime yet they wont hesitate to order the same girls to seek these services should they be the ones responsible and they don’t feel ready to take full responsibility.

Let stop for a second and ask ourselves the hard questions.

Men play a big role in contributing to the astounding figures of  unsafe abortion in Kenya. Some refuse to use a condom in the name of sex is sweeter without a condom, others lie to their women and make empty promises that they will stick with them through thick and thin, after winning their trust, most proceed to unleash the coveted three letter sentence  “I LOVE YOU” just to seal the deal.

When the woman gets pregnant she becomes a stranger to their erstwhile lovers. Deny! Deny! Deny!  becomes the infamous slogan.

We men refuse to take responsibilities and all we can do is tell the woman to terminate it. At that point we are willing to give them any amount just to go and get rid of the pregnancy. We use the so called love to justify our action.

“if you really love me go get rid of that pregnancy”

We don’t even care on where she is going to acquire these services, all we care about is the termination of the pregnancy. The woman goes and procures unsafe abortion from a quack and it is here where things do go wrong for the woman.

Aren’t men then the enablers of unsafe abortion?

We may not be on the same side in this discourse but at least we need to agree on three things.

  1. That we need to be honest and true in this debate.
  2.  That unsafe abortion hurts and kills our women.
  3. That access to safe and legal abortion as provided for under the constitution will severely reduce complications, morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortions

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WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt  from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }

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Why We Must End Female Genital Mutilation

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury of the female genital organs of the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

The most common type of FGM here in Kenya is the incision. This is where the clitoris is removed completely.

In Kenya FGM is seen to be practiced among certain communities including the Maasai ,Abagusii, Somali and the Meru.

FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 and it’s normally performed by the elderly women in the society. Moreover doctors are also taking part in FGM like in Kisii County it’s been done in secrecy.

Some of the tools used in FGM include special knives, scissors, razor blades, scalpels and pieces of glass. Usually there is no use of anesthetics and antiseptics.

In Kenya different reasons are given for practicing FGM. Some say that they practice FGM to control women’s sexuality claiming it reduces infidelity by reducing women urge for sex. Others claim that FGM is a way of initiating a girl into womanhood. Some communities also view the external part of female Genitalia as dirty and unclean so there is need to remove it. Religion has also been used to justify why people practice FGM.

FGM is illegal in Kenya because it has serious implications on the sexual and reproductive health of girls and woman. These implications include, severe pain, hemorrhage, infection of HIV and STDs, shock, damaging of the genital region, infection to the urinary, complication during childbirth and may lead to death.

We need to protect our young girls from FGM. Young girls are angels and as we know angels don’t live in hell. We need to create a safe haven for them here on earth by ending FGM here in the country.

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What Must be Done to Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Seme

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Seme is one of the sub-counties in Kenya with the highest levels of teenage pregnancy.  It is estimated that 2 out of 5 teenage girls are pregnant or have babies. This has greatly contributed to high rates of school dropout.

Teenage pregnancy has serious health implications including complications to these young women and sometimes even death.

Limited information on sexual and reproductive health, peer pressure, early marriages and poverty are some of the factors that are to blame for the current state of events.

But teenage pregnancy is not just a risk to the teenage girl herself, it has major effects to the family, society and even county and nation.

The County government of Kisumu should create job opportunities for the underprivileged improving their living standards therefore reducing poverty which is a major cause of teenage pregnancy.

There is also need to provide comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health and rights and ensure access to services including family planning. This can be achieved by increasing access to youth friendly reproductive health services. This will play a major role in reducing the cases of teenage pregnancy and school dropouts

There is also need to ensure that young people have access to age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education. Most parents, teachers and clergy in Seme sub county shy off when it comes to discussing sexual matters with their sons and daughters. They do believe that sex is sacred and should only be discussed in bedroom between married couples. Parents should open up to their sons and daughters when it comes to reproductive health matters. It is proven that children are more likely to listen to their parents than any other person.

The county government should also take legal actions against men who marry girls who are below eighteen and on their parents who give away their daughters for marriage at a very young age.

There is need to educate the society on the importance of educating a girl child and the disadvantages of marrying off teenage girl.

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Immediately Release and Implement the National Standards and Guidelines for the Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity

By Esther Wambui  (@KelsieKim )

How to abort has consistently been one of the most asked questions online by Kenyans according to Google Zeitgeist results. In deed a quick search on the world’s most popular search engine produces multiple results, majority of which are incorrect, harmful, troubling and bordering on suicidal.

It is thus not surprising that this online queries translated into about 465,000 unsafe abortion cases every year, many of which develop into severe complications, life time disability and even death.

Sometimes when we see this statistics in yet another report, there is an assumption that these are people from another world, faceless people without names and families, people who won’t be remembered.

Let me tell you the story of one of the 465,000; Halima.

 

abot

 

 

Halima lived in the door opposite my former house in Kawangware, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. She lived off her small business with her two children, a boy and a girl. They were her life. So she struggled to make sure they lacked nothing.

I use the past tense because she Halima is no more.

Cause of death? Severe bleeding from unsafe abortion.

See Halima had been in a relationship with this man for close to two years. He was abusive and raped her several times. She could not speak out because she knew and believed no one will believe her, furthermore how can your boyfriend rape you? A few months ago she discovered that she was pregnant. She wasn’t ready for another child. So she decide to terminate the pregnancy. She was advised that the best way to do it was to swallow concentrated jik detergent, a bitter and strong concoction of tea leaves and just to be sure to insert wire into her vagina.

When her neighbor finally heeded to her call for help, she found Halima on the floor lying in a sea of blood, her once beautiful body a caricature of a human being. Even before the neighbour could get help, Halima slumped into the cold bloody floor never to wake up again.

But Halima is just an example of many women who get unintended pregnancies, and due to the restrictive policy and legal environment on abortion in Kenya, decides to employ grotesque means to get rid of the pregnancy.

Imagine if these women had the choice of walking into the nearest hospital in Kenya and getting safe abortion services? Halima for one would still be here with us today, taking care of her two children and helping her small community in her small way.

This blatant disregard for loss of lives of Kenyan people is not the nation we want.

In December 2011 the Ministry of Health launched the “National Standards and Guidelines for the reduction of morbidity and mortality from unsafe abortion in Kenya to provide clinical guidelines to health providers providing safe abortion services only to be withdrawn in a huff barely two years later.

A recent study by Ipas Africa Alliance on institutional and structural abortion stigma in health care centers in Bungoma, Busia, Kericho, Trans Nzoia, Nandi and Kisumu counties of Kenya, revealed that this state of limbo has greatly contributed to stigma on healthcare providers who in turn turn away clients seeking these vital services.

Women are not dying because of untreated diseases. “They are dying because    societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.”

Dr. Mahmoud F. Fathalla

As the 57th Ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACPHR) kicks off in Banjul Gambia today, it is time we asked the hard questions. Kenya ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (African Charter) on 21 January 1992 and signed the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) on 17 December 2003[2] during the Summit when the Protocol was adopted.

As a signatory, Kenya will be submitting a report on how they have implemented these policies and frameworks to ensure women’s health are secured. Whereas we appreciate the achievements made so far, as civil society organizations we believe that our agenda is far from being realized if women like Halima will still die from unsafe abortion or maternal maternality.

WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }

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Esther Kimani is the Executive Director of Young Women’s Leadership Institute, a feminist organization whose mission is to nurture the leadership of young women and create spaces for their participation in policy processes.

Follow them on Twitter @ywli_info or Log on to their website www.ywli.or.ke

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Achien’g Will Die

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

The events are still fresh on my mind. It all started on 15 of September when Lilian, our house help, dragged me aside for a private chat. From the contours on her face, it was clear that this was a very grave matter. In deed it was.

Her elder sister Achien’g was in a big fix. At 21, she was already a mother of two and pregnant with the third. Life wasn’t rosy but it was manageable. Together with her husband, they sold mandazis by the roadside to earn their bread.

Her loving husband had denied responsibility for this third pregnancy insisting he had consistently used a condom. Enraged, he had accused Achien’g of infidelity. He refused to take care of another man’s seeds. He gave her two choices. Terminate the pregnancy and be forgiven, keep it and go back to wherever she came from.

Achien’g was desperate to save her marriage and her image. She could not withstand the shame and public ridicule of associated with an infidel. Despite these unfounded accusations, she still felt that their great love could be saved.

After listening to Achien’g, I requested her to visit Family Health Options Kenya, a youth friendly facility in Kisumu that offered Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health services, for further counseling and advice.

Even the fare to come to Kisumu was a big issue considering that their business only served for subsistence.

It was in her moment of desperation that she met a quack who accepted ‘the little she had’.

Achien’g should have known that cheap is expensive, but just like all men, she didn’t have the gift of hindsight.

Her ‘forgiving’ husband welcomed her with open arms. Life was back on track, if not better. Her business even got a boost as some local hotels started ordering for her mandazi.

And then hell broke loose. Blood started oozing from her vagina, her body became hot and she started experiencing severe headaches.

She quickly sought help from a local private facility, not revealing that she had had an abortion. The ‘doctor’ quickly ruled it as severe malaria and typhoid and prescribed painkillers.

The pain subsided with time as she continued swallowing her pills. She even went on with her business, normally. She was healed!

Until she suddenly became so ill. Blood was still oozing and it felt like her whole body was on fire. Her husband, for the first time realized the magnitude of the agony his poor wife was in. Having no money on him at the time, he begged his fellow villagers to lend him money to take his dying wife to the hospital.

When all failed, he swallowed his pride and called his in laws who quickly sold the only sheep that they had in order to rush their dear daughter to hospital. They took her to Rabuor Hospital who with only one look knew they couldn’t help her and instead referred her to New Nyanza Provincial Hospital in Kisumu.

She didn’t make it.

With her last ounce of strength she requested her husband to take care of their two children and then collapsed into the arms of the man she had loved more than life itself.

I attended her funeral. It was so sad. Achien’g was just but a young person gone too soon. Don’t get confused by the fact that she was already married with two children.

But Achien’g isn’t alone. She is just but one of the women who develop severe complications or die from unsafe abortions due to the restrictive legal environment on access to safe abortion in Kenya.

What of post abortion care that is permitted by law? Do facilities like Rabuor have the necessary infrastructure and resources to provide emergency treatment like such whenever required?

How many more women will have to die before we stop hiding our head in the sand and create an enabling policy and legal environment where young people and women’s right to sexual and reproductive health is guaranteed, protected and respected?

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WE CALL UPON the Government of Kenya to immediately release, disseminate, popularize and resource the National Standards and Guidelines for The Reduction of Maternal Mortality and Morbidity that provide clinical guidance to health care providers on the skills and indications for provision of safe abortion care in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. {Excerpt  from Alternative Report on Kenya- Reproductive Health and the Maputo Protocol }

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Editor: @Varaq


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Change of Tact Needed in the War against Female Genital Mutilation

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Female Genital Mutilation continues to happen every day under our watch. It is one big problem that has refused to go away. Could it be because of our stick approach of threatening to arrest perpetrators than educating our communities of the scarring effects of this cut? Could it be because our efforts are have not  taken into consideration the strong bonds between a people and their way of life?

In most cultures like in Kuria and Abagussi, men prefer to marry circumcised girls rather than those uncircumcised. They view uncircumcised girls as immature, unclean and incomplete. These men are usually brought up knowing that it is taboo to marry uncircumcised girls.

This means that for a girl to get married to a ‘decent and upright’ man she will have to undergo the cut just so that she could be with the man she loves. This is why many women do take their daughters for the cut. After all which mother would like her daughter to be unmarried, isolated and a source of ridicule in the village?

In our patriarchal societies, aren’t these traditions and beliefs propagated by men as well? Why then do we leave them out in our strategies?

Female Genital Mutilation is more than a legal issue. Locking up all perpetrators will just sweep the problems under the carpet, creating the façade that the war is over, only to resurface later and inflict more harm.

The first step of eliminating this gross violation of human rights is to respect the culture of the people. Confrontation and demeaning their culture will only serve to rile and hurdle them closer to their beliefs and traditions. This means also working with the men who may not be victims or perpetrators but otherwise enable this cut of shame.

We also need to invest more on the young girls and boys from these communities because they are the carriers of these culture. Young boys and girls are the future of these communities. Information will open their thinking and they will in turn serve as the change agents in the society.

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Imprisoned and Forgotten; Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of Prisoners

Category : Naya Blog

By Michael Oliech Okunson (@MikeOkunson)

Whenever we talk about population and development, we think of the free man, the strolling woman, the sex worker, the married man, sometimes the adolescent and the young person. But never do we stop for a moment and think about the prisoner.

They are locked, so why would we even think about issues such as their sexual and reproductive health and rights? Why should it be even be an issue considering they do not have access to their sexual partners? They are surely not engaging in risky sexually behaviors since they are confined, right?

Wrong.

Increase in the high number of HIV/AIDS incidences in prisons tells us otherwise. The reality is that men having sex with men, either consensually or through force is a damning reality in our prisons. Without basic facilities like condoms, these are key populations that we cannot afford to forget.

The Kenyan law prohibits sex in prison and conjugal visits. A man having a sexual relation with a fellow man is also illegal and if caught one could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison. This is the reason as to why the inmates will never want to admit openly that they are practicing these acts and that they need help.

Article 43(1a) of the Kenya constitution guarantees all Kenyans the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care. Everyone doesn’t mean some people, it includes all of us.Yet the reality is that these group of people are often assumed and or ignored in provision of sexual and reproductive health services and information.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. Everyone is entitled to these rights. Policy makers have to understand that prevention is better than cure and should include men having sex with fellow men in  programs such as HIV Programs. Article 27(4) off the constitution says the State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.

This is crucial if we are to achieve the economic and social pillars of Vision 2030.

The government should also abolish prohibitive laws which cripples the fight against HIV/AIDS among the key populations such as men having sex with men, sex workers, injecting drug users as per the Melbourne Declaration.

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