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Ntcheu, Zomba in STIs storm

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CONCERNED— Truwah

Despite the government’s efforts to promote sexual reproductive health rights, people, especially youths, continue to succumb to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the country. As TIYESE MONJEZA and PEMPHERO MALIMBA write, this has been a cause for concern among stakeholders.

Sandwiched between Malawi and Mozambique, Ntcheu District can as well be described as the centre of the storm, in terms of socio-economic activities.

Coincidentally, cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise.

At the national level, and this is according to Ministry of Health records, the syphilis seroprevalence rate was at one time estimated at between 2 to 10 percent among antenatal women.

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In fact, in 1990, 42 percent of antenatal clinic attendees were diagnosed with at least one STI, with HIV infection rates among patients with STIs ranging between 53 and 83 percent nationwide.

However, thanks to the introduction of sexual and reproductive health rights programmes, the figures have, since then, been declining.

However, the situation seems to be getting out of control again, especially in districts such as Ntcheu, where pregnancy and STI infection rates remain a concern to policymakers.

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Just between January and April this year, the district recorded 2,601 cases of teenage pregnancies.

“This means these young people had unprotected sex, thereby increasing their chances of contracting HIV and Aids,” said Umodzi Youth Organisation Director Shy Ali.

“This is a cause for concern,” he added.

His sentiments may not be far from the truth.

According to Ntcheu District Hospital Nursing Officer Tionge Mkutumula, the district registered 1,446 cases of STIs during January and April this year.

The district has 331,000 sexually active persons.

“We are concerned that, even though we are putting in place measures aimed at helping the youth access family Planning services, we are still having a huge number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections in the district,” Mkutumula said.

To help address such problems, organisations such as Family Planning Association of Malawi (Fpam) have been sensitising youths to the importance of staying safe from STIs, specifically targeting Nsiyaludzu area under Traditional Authority Makwangwala.

Fpam Social Behaviour Change and Communication Lead, Andrew Bishop Mkandawire, said there was a need to tackle social norms that hinder young people from accessing health services in the district.

“Young people need to find space where they can access services,” Mkandawire said.

In Zomba, the issue of STIs has also become a thorn in policymakers’ and healthcare service providers’ flesh.

For instance, a report which Zomba District Health Office Youth Friendly Health Services Provider and Trainer Hellen Truwah presented to stakeholders recently indicated that, in 2021, the district recorded 1,118 cases of STIs among youths.

The report also indicated that, in 2019, the district recorded 2,357 cases of STIs among youths.

Truwah attributed the rise in STIs to the lack of youth-friendly health services across the 42 health centres in the district.

“There is low uptake of contraceptive methods amongst the youth, where our data indicate that only seven percent of youths accessed family planning methods like use of a condom,” Truwah said.

She said another contributing factor is that some youths do not feel comfortable with family planning services, hence they tend to engage in unprotected sex, leading to the increase in cases of STIs.

“We are intensifying mobile outreach sessions in hard-to-reach areas where we are sensitising the youths on sexual reproductive health rights and easing their access to contraceptives,” Truwah said.

The situation has not escaped the attention of Senior Chief Malemia and Zomba Malosa legislator Grace Kwelepeta, who want requisite action to be taken to address the problem.

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