Health rights for every youth
It is a cool Sunday afternoon. Young people in the area of Traditional Authority Katuli in Mangochi have gathered at Katuli Health Centre. They share stories.
Memory says she is interested in using contraceptives to ward off an unplanned pregnancy.
A stumbling block is from familiar people: Some people close to her discourage her from opting for contraception.
“When I go to our health centre to seek contraceptives, people say I will not be able to give birth in future. I am completely discouraged. I think this is why many girls are falling pregnant, because they end up being afraid of using contraceptives,” Memory says.
She is one of the young people in her area living with HIV. Members of her family as well as others from the community are among those who discourage young people from accessing such services.
Another girl, who has a disability, a resident of the same area, shares a similar story.
“Some people within our community say people with disabilities cannot benefit anything from family planning services. We are always discouraged from going to the health facilities because of such negative remarks,” she says.
Young people living with HIV and those with disabilities are among out-of-school youths left behind in initiatives within comprehensive sexuality education (CSE).
They are those targeted in a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) initiative on out-of-school CSE for those left furthest behind across five regions, namely Asia and the Pacific, East and Southern Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West and Central Africa.
Within the out-of-school CSE programme, the iCAN package of CSE for HIV-positive young people was deployed to address the challenges these young people face.
Malawi Girl Guides Association (Magga) is one of the organisations implementing a project that aims at promoting CSE among adolescent and young people living with HIV and young people with disabilities.
Mangochi is one of the six districts that are being targeted. The others are Nkhata Bay, Mchinji, Dedza, Chiradzulu and Chikwawa.
Memory and other young people left behind on issues of CSE are some of the beneficiaries of the initiative.
Group Village Head Katuli says traditional leaders in the area are already promoting young people’s sexual and reproductive health rights.
“Regardless of health status, or whether they have any form of disability, they should be able to get the necessary information about sexual and reproductive health rights,” he says.
Essily Juda, a community midwife assistant based at Katuli Health Centre, says the facility is providing all the support it can, to all people.
She, however, admits that there have been challenges in the provision of contraceptives to young people living with HIV.
“The major problem we have is that some people tell those on antiretroviral therapy (ART) that contraceptives cannot work on them.
“We also have challenges in providing contraceptives to people with albinism and those with other forms of disabilities. However, we encourage them to come to access the services. The facility is open to all,” she says.
Blessings Jambo, a family planning methods community-based distribution agent, says although they are doing all they can to help on issues of sexual and reproductive health rights, sometimes lack of the family planning products derails their efforts.
He cites condoms as one of the products that are frequently in short supply.
“We have Katuli Health Centre which serves a very big area. However, the supplies are not enough. In the past month, we have not been provided with condoms,” Jambo says.
He has since appealed to all stakeholders to assist in the provision of more supplies.
“We know that government facilities, on their own, cannot provide all the needed supplies. UNFPA and other stakeholders should help in the provision of the supplies,” he says.
An official from Mangochi District Youth Office, Steve Chilambula, says they are experiencing the same problem.
“It is true that condoms, which are mostly used by the youth, are not available. This is the most recommended method among the youth. We are asking different stakeholders to help us with condoms, so that we can distribute them to the youth whenever they need them,” he says.
His office has been playing a crucial role in teaching the youth about CSE. Among others, Chilambula says, they guide organisations implementing different projects on which areas to focus on in implementation, especially on sexual and reproductive health rights.
Magga Field Facilitator Edson Kathumba says they have been implementing the out-of-school CSE project with the aim of reducing teenage pregnancies.
“We learnt that there are some people, particularly those living with HIV and those with disabilities, who are not getting enough messages. We embarked on this project with the aim of making sure they are not lagging behind,” he says.