(April 2001) More than 1,200 people from 32 nations gathered in Manila Feb. 15-19 for the first Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive Health (APCRH). The theme of the conference was “Quality Reproductive Health: On Track with the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development) Commitment.” The gathering’s primary objective was to serve as a discussion forum for a wide variety of specialists in the reproductive health field in the Asia-Pacific region. As such, it marked the first opportunity for Asians to exchange information on solutions to the many reproductive health issues that countries in the region face. Participants included senior government officials, representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the commercial private sector, researchers, and others.

The conference’s chief pronouncement, the “Manila Declaration,” emphasized gender equity as the foundation for reproductive rights. It called upon governments, the international community, NGOs, and other civil society organizations to cooperate to protect these rights. It also exhorted these various players to improve reproductive health conditions in Asia and the Pacific, particularly among adolescents and marginalized populations such as indigenous groups and those living in poverty or regions of conflict.

A unique feature for a conference of this magnitude was that it was organized and managed by an NGO, the Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health, and Welfare (PNGOC). The keynote address, given by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships. This was demonstrated at the conference itself in that NGOs worked closely with the public sector to ensure a voice for civil society and to make a clear, strong and unified call for gender equity and reproductive rights for citizens of all countries in the region.

PRB played a major role in the APCRH, made a presentation: “Bridging the Gap between Researchers and Policymakers,” and served on the APCRH Resolution Committee, which was responsible for drafting the conference declaration. PRB also provided support for three reporters to attend the conference: Anita Katyal, a special correspondent for The Times of India; Chhay Sophal, who writes for Reuters and Cambodian publications; and Bishnu K. Sharma, a reporter for Khulamach National Weekly newspaper in Nepal.

Mark Sherman is a senior policy analyst at the Population Reference Bureau.