Sexual, reproductive services elude youths
Published On June 22, 2015 » 2500 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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pixBy CLEMENT KAPONDA  –

IT is said that health is wealth. But for the marginalised and vulnerable groups, access to health care services remains a pipedream if not a nightmare.
It is an established fact that Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services are neither available nor accessible to a vast majority of young people in Zambia.
This has, without a doubt, contributed to the high incidences of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV among the youth population. Teenage pregnancies and child marriages are also reportedly on the increase.
According to a 2013 report by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), young people in Zambia aged 15-24 years account for about 17.5 per cent of HIV positive people between ages of 15-49.
And according to a report by the World Bank published in May this year, about 16,000 teenage girls are falling pregnant every year.
In an effort to address this, the Young Men’s Christian Association of Zambia (Zambia YMCA) in conjunction with the Young Women Christian association (YWCA) has been implementing a multi-country health initiative (MCHI) also known as Act2Live since 2012.
The project aims to address identified neglected health issues among the youth and focuses on addressing the young people’s access to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, access to Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) which includes information and services pertaining to STIs, HIV and AIDS in the face of Gender Based Violence, teenage Pregnancies and early marriages.
“Young people must have access to information and services pertaining to SRH and other health issues for them to lead healthy and productive lives.
It is in our best interest as a country to ensure that our youths enjoy good health because a healthy person is a productive people. We should, therefore work towards ensuring that access to Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) is a reality for the majority of our young population,” says Zambia YMCA Acting Executive Director Daniel Kunda.
And Elias Chewe a youth rights advocate notes that a lot needs to be done to ensure that young people have access to YFHS.
Mr Chewe contends that encouraging young people to seek information or services pertaining to SRH would ultimately lead to a reduction on the disease burden that the country is currently grappling with.
“Statistics from the 2010 population census indicate that over 80 per cent of people in Zambia are aged between 0-35 years old. That tells us that the majority of Zambians are youths. It is therefore only prudent that we invest in YFHS if at all we are serious about meeting the much orchestrated development goals that the country has set and reducing on the disease burden,” asserts Mr Chewe.
Having more available, accessible and acceptable YFHS for young people is a growing challenge for policy makers, health providers and most young people.
To this end, Zambia YMCA through the ACT2Live Project have developed and disseminated over 250 citizen report cards to decision makers who included Members of Parliament, Councillors and traditional Leaders.
The report card highlights some of the challenges that young people face when accessing health information and services as well as recommendations.
Some out the issues highlighted in the report card include inadequate facilities providing youth-friendly health services and the fact that there are currently few numbers of health providers that have been trained to provide YFHS are some of the issues highlighted in the report card.
The organisation has also been conducting discussion forums aimed at engaging decision makers and community leaders in conversations around SRH and the need for young people to have access to YFHS.
In 2012 the YMCA carried out youth led research in Kitwe, Chibombo and Lusaka. This was done in order to explore and understand the availability of and accessibility to relevant and quality health information and services that respond to the specific needs of vulnerable and marginalised groups of young people (15 to 24 years) in Zambia.
The research showed that HIV/AIDS, SRH, malaria and STIs) were among the most neglected health issues.
The health issues that young people in the research identified as neglected were very similar to the common health issues and were largely related to SRH.
According to the study HIV/AIDS was the most neglected health issue at 31 per cent, followed by STIs at 24 per cent and teenage pregnancies eight (8) per cent.
Malaria, despite being ranked as the third highest common health issue, was low down on the list of neglected health issues, being cited by only three (3) per cent of respondents.
However, malaria is a particular concern for hard-to-reach groups such as street children and other vulnerable young people Tuberculosis was also high on the list due its association with HIV and other AIDS related complications.
It was also observed that many health facilities were at the time of the study poorly resourced often overcrowded and not youth friendly, a situation that prevails even to this day. The majority of young people complained that health workers lacked knowledge and skills necessary for them to handle youths.
It was further observed that the stigma and discrimination surrounding SRH, which causes them not to seek information or services was predominantly due to traditional Zambian culture that prevents parents from openly discussing SRH matters with their children.
(The author is a Zambia YMCA Youth Rights Advocate)

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