Kenyan Youth Advocate Sees Greater Need for AYSRH Information and Services During COVID-19
Contributors: Morine Sirera, Denis Sama and Njeri Mbugua
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), one in every five girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years became pregnant or gave birth in Kenya in 2019, resulting in 380,000 teenage pregnancies. The reproductive health needs of adolescents in Kenya cannot be ignored, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The need for quality contraceptive services for young people is even greater now considering the challenges they already faced in accessing reproductive health information and services at health facilities and pharmacies.
Gideon Obuya – or ‘half cast’ as he is popularly known among his peers – focuses on the needs of adolescents and youth in his community in Dagoretti Sub-County. Being a young adult himself, he understands the reproductive health knowledge and information gaps among youth within his community. In his role as the media coordinator for the Nairobi chapter of the Youth Advisory Council (YAC), he helps overcome these gaps. He recently described the dire situation faced by youth as a result of COVID-19:
With COVID-19 challenges, … AYs [adolescents and youth] have too much time on their hands and no constructive activities to engage in. When the national government announced stay-at-home orders, daily lives for many AYs changed. Youth in my community want and need more education and awareness on health issues affecting them, such as teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.”
The Challenge Initiative (TCI), also known as Tupange Pamoja in East Africa, encourages meaningful youth engagement in the design and management of adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health (AYSRH) programs. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) team in Nairobi County, TCI works through youth champions and advocates, like Gideon, to enhance access to and uptake of contraceptive commodities by adolescents and youths within the community, especially during COVID-19. More than 150 youth advocates from the 10 sub-counties, including Dagoretti, were oriented to be able to reach out to adolescents and youth with accurate information on contraceptives as well as other SRH issues.
When the County of Nairobi reached out to us for orientation, I immediately signed up. I have a talent – since when I was in primary school, I have been able to mobilize and organize informational sessions with my peers. During orientation, I realized I could turn these sessions into forums where we could discuss the issues affecting us and come up with solutions. Since then, my interactive sessions turned into forums for sharing accurate information on the questions that came up from my peers.”
During TCI’s program review meetings, the program implementation team (PIT) members – who coordinate and structure implementation of family planning and AYSRH programs within their cities – realized that they also needed to orient community health workers on AYSRH so they could offer quality contraceptive counseling and services to adolescents and youth among their other health tasks. To ensure that the voices of youth are heard in the implementation of activities in Nairobi County, 10 YAC members actively participate in the PIT, where they share their experiences in reaching out to their peers. As a measure of sustainability, the PIT constitutes various focal persons within the Ministry of Health’s (MoH’s) human resource structure. Gideon explains in his own words the significance of his participation on the PIT:
Sitting in the program implementation meetings (PIT) meetings has enabled me to voice out concerns raised by young people in the community I live in. They trust me and this has enabled me to be heard, which has led to some changes in implementation practices. For example, in the recent past, I raised a concern to the PIT team on the lack of service providers to reach youth with hearing impairments with information. I was very pleased when the community strategy coordinator organized a community dialogue for hard of hearing youth in my community. We were able to reach 30 young people who did not have any information on contraceptives or condom use. I see my value and I am glad that my voice is being heard. Being on the PIT team enables me to collect views from the young people in the community. I have been able to organize various online meetings as well as forums with young people in the community to collect their views, which I am able to effectively relay to the PIT team and the challenges addressed. The negative attitude of the service providers has been effectively addressed, and now young people feel free to access services from public facilities within Dagoretti.”
Gideon described personal changes he has experienced as a result of his participation in TCI activities, like the PIT:
The skills learnt and the information and lessons obtained from the TCI-U [TCI University] orientations have enabled me to reach many youth and am able to teach my theater group. Thus, we are able to provide accurate SRH information to the community. Being part of the PIT team has also enabled me to learn leadership skills, which have become especially useful in the current COVID-19 pandemic. I have not only been able to support my community with food [distribution efforts] during outreaches but also interact with community members. Through these interactions, I have been able to demonstrate how positive sexual reproductive behaviors are enabling our girls and boys to complete their education without interruptions from unintended pregnancies.”
Not only has Gideon experienced personal changes but he has also witnessed many positive changes within his community as a result of TCI:
For those who have already given birth, we have a teen mother’s session where I reach out to them and encouraged them to be ambassadors of change in the community. They even come to my forums to talk to other AYs. This will help in ensuring that the cycle of poverty does not continue and also encourage them to access contraceptives from public facilities, which are now youth-responsive. Thanks to the orientation of the service providers and all staff at the facility on provision of youth friendly services, young people in the community now realize that their voices are heard and they have also realized that they are the leaders of today. During commodity distribution, the beneficiaries usually express their gratitude and tell me: ‘Thanks for the pills; they will really help me, especially because I do not feel comfortable going to the facility at the moment because of COVID-19. I will let my other friends know where they can find them when they need them.” ’