March 24, 2015

Youth leaders: prioritise adolescent health with resources and results

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. 

Some Quotes

  • “PMNCH needs to have a youth constituency, if we are mainstreamed our voices get lost along the way. We need a space to deliberate among us.”
    Martin Wanzala, Allied Youth Initiative, Uganda
  • “People forget the issue of inclusivity – glad to have been involved….Remember that youth are not homogeneous. We are in different categories and have different needs. Young people with disabilities are always forgotten in SRH service provision. So when you talk about unmet needs, it is us”.  
    Robert Nkwangu, National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda
  • “Young people can access drugs without the relevant information. So you give them rights, but they do not know what the consequences are, because they are afraid to ask the right people for help”.  
    Priscilla L. Kyaidhi, The Uganda Civil Society Youth Coalition
  • “When you go in and wait for health workers, you feel like they are not doing enough because you have to wait for hours, but in effect they are doing more than they should.” 
    Brigitte Diana Mdagire, Uganda Young Positives
  • “As young people we have not taken on the HRH issue as much as we should. Many of the women dying are young mothers. Perhaps this needs to be a focus of youth advocacy in Uganda. As young people in this country we have a capacity to say certain things and it gets done. Let’s talk about HRH.”  
    Patrick Mwesigy, Uganda Youth Adolescent Health Forum
  • “We have made progress but what is stopping us is lack of youth friendly services. The data is not youth friendly, the attitudes, the information, the environment is not youth friendly and it results in young people’s attitudes that are not youth friendly”.
    Maureen Wanyama, Uganda Civil Society Coalition
  • “Sometimes the reason why young people are not involved in formal processes is because their capacity is lacking. Capacity is key.”  Yvonne Miller, National Youth Council