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Rights and choices: Young people speak out on sexual and reproductive health access

The World Population Day in Uganda was commemorated July 11 with young people speaking out on the barriers that hinder them from accessing sexual and reproductive health services, and suggesting solutions on how to address them amid and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s focus was on adolescent sexual and reproductive health in line with the global theme: "Rights and Choices are the answer: Whether baby boom or bust, the solution lies in prioritizing the reproductive health and rights of all people" while the national theme: “COVID 19 and Beyond: A Spotlight on Uganda's Adolescent Reproductive Health.”

In a televised symposium on July 9, titled: “The role of young people in advancing the campaign against Teenage pregnancy and child marriage in Uganda,” the young panelists said they are hindered from making informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health due to attitudinal and environmental barriers, as well as lack of access to information and services.                         

 Ms. Agnes Sanyu, from the Uganda National Network of Young People Living with HIV/AIDS cited ignorance, fear, stigma and discrimination as some of the factors hindering many young people from accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

“Some young people assume they will not be listened to. But also stigma and discrimination plays a part. For instance, among young people living with HIV, survivors of teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and forced marriage may be afraid to seek services in fear of stigma,” Ms. Sanyu said during the panel discussion on television. “Sometimes we are ignorant. The services may be there but we may not know what to do. We may not know how to use a condom or the health worker may not be friendly,” Ms Sanyu said.

From a disability perspective, peer educator with a youth-led organization, Reach-a-Hand Uganda, Ms. Norine Ondoru said that people with disabilities should be included in all aspects of life including access to sexual and reproductive health services.

“For instance, youth- friendly centers cannot be friendly enough if they are not disability -friendly. While laws and policies provide for interpreters at all service delivery points, there are also communication barriers like the unavailability of sign language interpreters.”

 “Furthermore, other services may not be available in braille for those with physical impairments. All public buildings should have ramps as provided by laws, but you find even some courts of law are inaccessible,” Ms. Ondoru said.

UNFPA Programme Specialist Ms. Batula Abdi agreed: “Laws and policies are not enough. We have to go a step further in implementation and having interventions that address in term of inclusion. When we talk about Youth-Friendly Services, that friendliness has to be defined and that includes accessibility, affordability and availability.”

Ms Batula recommended the need to ensure young people with disabilities are able to access sexual and reproductive health information developed in terms of IEC materials and braille’s for those with hearing impairments to enable them make informed choices.

Ms. Nageeba Hassan Tegulwa, Executive Director Restoring and Empowering Communities appealed for better coordination and an urgent need to address the social determinants of teenage pregnancies and child marriages:

“To empower girls with skills and knowledge is not enough. Pregnancies come because of different things; poverty, ignorance, social pressures, so we need to work on all these aspects concurrently. Give knowledge, skills, information, supporting them stay in school and supporting families economically.”

Director Family Health, National Population Council, Dr. Betty Kyadondo stressed the importance of recognizing and investing in and harnessing the potential of young people who make 78 percent of Uganda’s population under 30 years.

 “If we invest in this young population by ensuring access to social services including health and education and access to sexual and reproductive health services, we are likely to overcome some of our development challenges including reducing teenage pregnancy and child marriage,” Dr. Kyadondo said.

 “If only women can embrace family planning and we reduce the total fertility rate, ensure we are reducing the maternal mortality and address issues of access to sexual and reproductive health including providing family planning for young people who are sexually active, we are going to make a big difference,” Dr Kyadondo added.

The symposium was organized by National Population Council with support from UNFPA and funding form the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Uganda.

 

Written by Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi