Report exposes reproductive health service challenges
By Deogratias Mmana:
Although Malawi was among the first African countries to implement youth-friendly health services in 2007 and renewed its commitment to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) in 2019, researchers claim that young people continue to face challenges.
This is according to a study conducted in 2020 by Kenya-based African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), which conducted a problem-based political economy analysis focusing on adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health information and services in Malawi.
The report was unveiled Tuesday during a Malawi Adolescents and Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights National Symposium in Lilongwe.
According to the research report, dubbed ‘Increasing Adolescents’ Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Information and Services in Malawi’, there are a number of challenges that impede healthcare service delivery.
It cites the shortage of health workers to deliver care, inadequate in-service training and poor staff retention as some of the key factors leading to the poor provision of SRH services.
Other factors include drug stockouts, weak supply chains and inadequate basic equipment and infrastructure
“Despite the progress recorded, young people continue to face barriers in accessing SRH services. The cultural expectation of saving sex for marriage persists and hinders unmarried young people from seeking services.
“Misinformation about contraceptive effectiveness and side effects results in poor utilisation [of services], especially among unmarried young people, exposing them to unintended pregnancies. Judgemental attitude of providers towards unmarried girls accessing contraceptives persists and negatively influences uptake,” the report reads.
Further, the report says healthcare service facilities are considered unfriendly to adolescents living with disabilities or those who identify as sexual minorities.
The report also attacks Malawi’s laws which, it says, remain non-aligned to international and regional human rights instruments and standards regardless of whether they are signed or ratified.
“Malawi’s law does not explicitly address the minimum age of consent for contraception, leaving it to interpretation by service providers. Malawi domestic laws do not fully comply with the Maputo Protocol because abortion is restricted to circumstances under which the mother’s life is endangered,” the report reads.
“A lack of financing provisions in policies and laws adversely affects the implementation of many SRH programmes; reliance on fluctuating financial support from international agencies creates uncertainty and makes planning difficult,” the report adds.
During the opening of the symposium, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda said Malawi has a long way to go in ensuring that young people have access to affordable SRHR services despite progress made.
“We still have a long journey in front of us. This journey requires the collective innovativeness and dynamism of our young people,” Kandodo Chiponda said.
“This is a call to action for all of us in government as well as civil society to ensure that we create spaces that will allow our young people to bring in a new wave of freshness on how we can design more relevant programmes,” she added.
APHRC co-investigator Caroline Kabiru confirmed that young people in Malawi face problems when accessing services related to sexual and reproductive health.
Southern Africa Trust Malawi Country Director Robert Phiri, who organised the three-day symposium, said young people were brought together to find solutions to challenges they face when they try to access SRH services.