By Rose Mahoro

Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) is an essential component of the universal right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other international human rights conventions, declarations, and consensus agreements.

Globally, most people become sexually active before their 20th birthday and according to the data from the Demographics and Health Survey, the median age of young people in Uganda having their first sexual experience is 16.4 years thus an alarming increase in teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions. According to the data collected from Naguru Teenage Information Health Center, 64% of the clinical problems at the facility were related to STIs management. No wonder, early this year (2017), Uganda Aids Commission released a disquieting report saying 500 girls get HIV infection every week in Uganda.

This plague should be caused by scant knowledge about contraceptives and HIV and AIDS, increasing immorality among young people since social and cultural norms have largely prohibited teachers, parents and children from discussing sex, mistrust between the youth and the service providers which impairs access to youth friendly services.

The ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) tabled a shocking motion to ban comprehensive sexual education in schools which was a blow to activists who have been advocating for a more holistic sex education and a more open dialogue about sexual reproductive health that covers the psychological and emotional aspects of adolescents and helping them make more informed decisions.

Although this is happening, we shouldn’t forget Uganda’s successful response to HIV/AIDS and for this reason, it was held as a model for other countries. The government of Uganda also registered a tremendous achievement for young people in the field of SRHR by adopting policies that created an environment supportive of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. International and national organizations such as RHU, UHMG, Reach a Hand and Marie Stopes Uganda have come up with programs and interventions aimed at behavior change, advocacy and service delivery for adolescents.

Among the interventions, Marie Stopes Uganda launched SRH Ambassadors program for young people ages 18-25 years where they are trained on Sexual Reproductive Health and leadership roles to help them reach their fellow young people in and out of school who may be in need of SRH knowledge and information, refer them to appropriate facilities and empower them to make informed decisions.

In Addition, Marie Stopes Uganda runs a toll free line 0800220333. This helpline is adequately equipped to provide free and friendly counseling, information giving and referrals on SRH related matters to both female and male adolescents in a confidential manner.

Therefore, gender and human rights should be placed at the heart of sex education, service providers should be trained in providing youth friendly services, NGOs through the government should come up with interventions to increase access of free youth friendly services, stake holders, parents and children should as well work hand in hand to have a better Sexual Reproductive Health.

Youth Friendly Spaces Launched In Centres

It is estimated that approximately only 50% of the youth do not use health facilities due to lack of youth friendly services. Many youths fear to discuss SRH issues due to stigma from the health staff, others fear to disclose their conditions to due to traditional factors.

Marie Stopes Uganda has set up 2 youth friendly spaces in Kampala and Tororo district with the aim of attracting youth to receive information and SRH services like contraceptives use, condoms and STI management. The facilities are set up in a way that promotes an atmosphere of relaxation and are fully equipped with games like table tennis, quizzes, reading materials,DSC_0187 education videos and refreshments.

The youth spaces are meant to engage youth through interaction with peer educator counselors and youth volunteers trained in providing youth friendly services.

At the youth space, learning activities on primary preventive approaches like contraceptive use to prevent unintended pregnancies and HIV/AIDS are done with the participation of youth themselves which allows expression of their views on issues that affect them.

This platform equips youth with correct knowledge and shapes a positive attitude towards health choices not limited to safe sex practices but also life skills and a positive shift in health seeking behaviors.

Youth Friendly spaces are a popular way of passing knowledge to youth which eventually improves their demand for SRH services and is credited most for the friendly interaction that allows active participation of both service provider and youth participants.