Adolescents still require orientation on Family Planning.

By Esther Makula

COVID-19 has boldly highlighted the importance of providing sexuality education and any other Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) information related to adolescents and young people.

We can no longer pretend to say that our children are still young, and are not sexually active. Amidst the demands of such services, however, the beneficiaries could not access them, largely due to the restrictions that came in while trying to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 infections.

Adolescent girls and boys at a school assembly

In their report, ‘Access to Contraceptive Services Among Adolescents in Uganda During the COVID-19 Pandemic,’ by the Guttmacher Institute, it was noted that from the Health Management Information Systems (HMIS) data and those from private providers, there was a dip in access to some family planning services during April 2020, when a total lockdown was enforced.

“The Performance Monitoring for Action survey data show an increase in contraceptive use among 15–19-year-olds between 2019 and 2020, which is in line with service data from the HMIS,” says the report.

This report, which was released in November 2021 shows that even those that had tried to terminate the pregnancies increased especially during the lockdowns (2020), as compared to 2019.

We are living in different times, and so young people receive age-appropriate sexuality education. Why?

Because 15-19-year-olds are engaging in risky sexual activities because they’re out of their safe places, the schools. The most painful imagination is that they are living with their perpetrators, whom they cannot mention because they have a family reputation to protect!

Despite the scourge of teenage pregnancies and their impacts, sexuality education has not been prioritized. The National Sexuality Education Framework, launched by the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) in 2018 has not yet been implemented, on grounds of ‘ongoing consultations.’

This would guide sexuality education for the young people, who represent the biggest portion of Uganda’s population. This is important because it’s expected that schools will be reopened in January 2022, after about two years of closure.

Now that majority of our girls, especially in the rural areas have been engaged in sexual activities (with or without their consent), the education ministry should come out with an out of school policy to cater for this population. This is because some of them will have babies, while others are pregnant, and they need to be accepted upon re-entry.

If we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which looks at “Good Health and Well-being,” we need to consider the recommendations made in that report:

That contraceptive services should be classified as essential services to be integrated with the COVID-19 response interventions and should remain fully operational and open before, during and after the lockdown.

But, most importantly, advocacy efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health among adolescents should also work to ensure equitable access to contraceptive services, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized adolescent populations (such as adolescents with disabilities) through already accredited private health care facilities, clinics, pharmacies and drug shops within the communities.

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