Scientists should focus more on sexual and reproductive health (SRH), experts from the Ministry of Health, hospitals and international institutes suggested at the first national conference on this emerging field of research.

Vice Minister of Health Nguyen Viet Tien said that better research will help the country address significant challenges in this arena.

These issues include maintaining fertility rates, reducing the imbalanced sex ratio at birth, cutting maternal and infant mortality rates and improving sexual and reproductive health care services for young people, he said.

Mandeep K.O'Brien, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative in Vietnam, said women of reproductive age in the country make up more than half of the female population, while young people (ages 10-29) make up approximately 40 percent of the country's total population.

"Different individuals have different needs when it comes to sexual and reproductive health," she said, so it is crucial for the country to research the cultural, social and economic factors affecting women and men when accessing services in the area.

More research on young people's sexual reproductive health is needed if the country aims to offer programmes that respond to their actual SRH needs, she added.

At the same time, experts expressed concern about unequal access to health care services between regions, within provinces and among vulnerable groups such as young people, ethnic minorities and the poor, as these groups have limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.

In some ethnic minority regions, over 90 percent of deliveries occur at home - and 80 percent are not supported by a trained health-care worker. Additionally, one-third of young people still face barriers in accessing necessary SRH information and services.

If midwives are in place to stabilise the mothers' condition and refer the most severely complicated cases to specialised care, up to 90 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented, said O'Brien of UNFPA.

Tien suggested the conference should lay down guidelines for researchers in this area to help policy makers and managers allocate resources and narrow the disparities between regions.

Research on infertility, contraceptive methods, maternal mortality, safe motherhood, pregnant prevalence in adolescent age and reproductive health care for ethnic minorities was also discussed at the conference.-VNA