March 24, 2015
Originally appeared on PMNCH
Youth leaders— 15 strong— gathered at the UNFPA offices in Kampala to share their recommendations on priorities for inclusion in the updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. Representatives of a wide range of interests from those of the Uganda Young Positives, to the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda to a teenage mother, the youth largely agreed on a need for the Global Strategy to focus on inclusivity – with a concerted effort to include the most vulnerable.
The Strategy, they stressed needs to fulfil the rights of young people. It needs to ensure access to safe abortion and family planning – with efforts focused on creating demand for family planning services among young people who do not use services because of myths, poor health worker attitude and peer pressure. They called for a cross sectoral approach that aims to provide education both to those that have access to formal education settings and those that do not. They noted the impact a lack of access to economic empowerment has on young people, pointing to the example of girls sometimes exchanging sex for money and goods to meet their basic needs. To illustrate this point, one young woman told a poignant story, describing how she had to leave her home because of violence and became engaged in sex work to be able to survive, only to get pregnant as a teenager with two babies and lose one at the age of two, possibly the result of having been turned away by the health center by unkind workers when the baby was ill.
Equally important to in education and economic empowerment they mused, would also be a purposeful look at improving nutrition, an end to child marriage and access to water, sanitation and hygiene.
The young leaders went further, highlighting a dire need for youth friendly health services and information, emphasising that these must be built on stronger health systems that have: lifesaving commodities available; health centres with adequate equipment; running water and electricity. They called for more health workers that are better trained and motivated. Patrick Mwesigye, one of the youth leaders stated ‘once a woman reaches a health facility, she should not die’. The young leaders called for the practical application of policies on comprehensive sexuality education which while some governments make the provision for it, is not effectively implemented. They asked that Comprehensive Sexuality Education include a component on safe motherhood to cater for the young women that might get pregnant and become mothers.
The young leaders rebelled against the notion of empty promises and called for a financial commitment to adolescent health – requesting that governments have a budget line for adolescent health services. In concluding, they called for more investment in building their capacity to hold the governments to account for results and resources.