By Dr. George Kamau
In the last 12 months, fresh data has been published confirming that Kenya’s teenagers and youth are struggling with their sexuality.
According to the National AIDS Control Council, AIDS is the leading cause of death and morbidity among adolescents and young people in Kenya. Approximately 29% of all new HIV infections in Kenya are among adolescents and young people.
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 on the other hand reveals that many young Kenyans aged between 15 and 18 years are becoming parents. 3 out of 100 girls are already child-bearing by age 15, rising to 40 out of 100 girls by age 19.
This new knowledge must inspire us to take action and empower Kenyan youth, including teenagers, to fight back.
Even though there is no silver bullet to solving this complex challenge, one of the most powerful weapons that we can employ in our fight back is investing in youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
Sexual and reproductive health services include access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception method of their choice. This also includes the process of making sure that that the youth are informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.
Why youth friendly youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services?
The barriers that young people face in accessing sexual and reproductive health services are unique to them due to their stage in life, their associated special needs, perceptions, and abilities.
Many young people in need of reproductive health services may either shy away from seeking the services or be denied access to sexual and reproductive health services for a variety of reasons. Existing health providers may be biased and may not be feel comfortable serving sexually active youth.
The youth on the other hand may not feel comfortable accessing existing services because the way the services are set up do not meet their needs.
Another major barrier to access of reproductive health services for the youth in many Kenyan communities is that many communities feel that unmarried youth should not be sexually active and therefore should not have access to reproductive health services.
It is for this reason that Kenya needs to invest in sexual and reproductive health services specifically tailored for the youth.
What is youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services?
Youth-friendly services are those that effectively attract young people, meet their needs comfortably and responsively, and succeed in retaining young clients for continuing care.
Youth-friendly services are a combination of health facility characteristics, service provision approach and personnel offering services.
Our premise is that, if we help young people to know their bodies, they will make good decisions that will benefit them in the present and in future. Good decisions that will help them ward off HIV and STIs as well as early and unplanned pregnancies.
It is vital that players in the health sector in Kenya led by the national government and county governments ensure that as many health facilities in Kenya as possible can offer youth friendly sexual and reproductive services.
Having said that, we recognize that youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services requires investment. The investment will go towards setting up the physical infrastructure, hiring the human resources and equipping the youth friendly facilities.
Youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services can only become a reality if the national and county governments allocate at least 10% of the health budget for family planning services in line with the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, popularly known as the Maputo Protocol, to which Kenya is a signatory.
Youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services, HIV infection rates and teenage pregnancy
Investment in youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services will not only help in reducing teenage pregnancy and HIV infection rates among young people in Kenya, but it will also contribute in improving maternal and newborn health as well as reducing the need for procuring unsafe abortions.
As Kenya joins the rest of the world in commemorating the world contraception day 2016, both the national government and county governments must prioritise youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. Our focus this world contraception day ought to be our future. And our future lies in the youth.
Dr. Kamau is the Kenya Country Director, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW) Kenya firstname.lastname@example.org