Nowadays one cannot talk about reproductive health without having to tackle sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) and Youth friendly health services (YFHS). These issues are so connected that you cannot celebrate making strides in reproductive health if the two remain daunting.
At the same time, globally, issue of adolescents is one of the key issues affecting the health status of the youth. Despite talks and some interventions in SRH and YFHS by different agencies and organizations, many of these young people are at risk or already struggling with the consequences of unplanned pregnancies, sexual transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS among others. Nonetheless, we cannot back down but rather the question should be what can we do to improve the nerve-wracking situation. There is need to minimize these risks and secure a healthy future for adolescents and it is necessary that that the policy makers, service providers, advocates among others have solid evidence regarding the sexual and reproductive health needs of the youth.
Knowing the impact of implementing evidence based interventions and policies, MaiKhanda together with the Graca Machel Trust (GMT) Champion Maziko Matemba and Youth advocates, Christina Chilimba and Hastings Banda decided to go an extra mile by engaging with students at the Malawi Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi with an aim to assess the levels of knowledge of SRH and YFHS as well as generate information and data on sexual and reproductive health issues affecting them and their experience in Youth Friendly Services particularly in the areas of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality.
Maziko Matemba said after the Malawi Human Rights Commission Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Adolescent and Child Health (RMNCAH) recommendations to strengthen behavior change interventions, strengthen research on RMNCAH among young people and adolescents as well as ensure the availability of Youth friendly services, they saw it necessary to have a discussion with adolescents at tertiary education level to get feedback which can help inform policy and decision making.
“As you are aware 1 in 6 of the world’s population are adolescents aged 10 to 19 and most of these are at tertiary education level so we thought to come here to adolescents knowledge on SRH and YFHS, get feedback on issues of RMNCAH+N which will assist us in our advocacy work as well as get your perspective on how these issues can tackled and financed at country level” he said.
A section of the students who attended the function
Surprisingly, as many people would expect tertiary education youths to have better knowledge and understanding of SRH and YFHS than those in the rural areas, the interaction with the students showed that there is a knowledge gap among the youths mostly because the SRH education in schools is not as effective as it should be.
Youth advocate, Christina Chilimba also highlighted that there is need for a formal platform for the youth to express their SRHR needs and to discuss availability and access to YFHS because as much as the government and other organisations have made efforts to provide YFHS, they are not being accessed by the youths due to some factors that are usually overlooked.
“As much as the reproductive health services and YFHS are available for the youth to access them it is actually difficult for the youths to do so because of issues of stigma, stereotyping and attitudes of the service providers. For example if a young unmarried lady goes to the hospital to get family planning services, emergency contraceptive pills or ask for condoms she is looked at as a prostitute hence many opting not to get the much needed help for the sake of maintaining their dignity even here at the college where one would expect the youth to be open and flexible” said Christina.
When asked how the youth feel these issues can be addressed going forward, the group expressed that there is need to improve the quality of SRH services which can be achieved by creating youth specific sections in the hospitals with youth staff. Furthermore, they also suggested that the YFHS should be made readily available not be limited to specific weekdays and times at both facility and community level.
The discussion also provided a platform to share more information about Graca Machel Trust Youth Mentorship Program on reproductive, maternal, neonatal, adolescent health and nutrition. This was the first youth and adolescent outreach activity under the Graca Machel project. Among other things the event involved presentations, questions and debate and it attracted around 200 people.
Two similar events will be done in the central and northern region of which one will be at community level to generate more information which will be shared with other partners and advocates at the strategic planning meeting.