Data published in the past 12 months has confirmed 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.
About 29 per cent of all new HIV infections in Kenya are among adolescents and young people.
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 reveals that many young Kenyans aged between 15 and 18 years are becoming parents. Three 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 Kenya’s young people 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 is investing in youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
Sexual and reproductive health services include access to accurate information and safe, effective, affordable, and acceptable contraception methods. This also includes the process of making sure that the youth are informed and empowered to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.
The barriers that young people face in getting access to 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 — or be denied — access to them for a variety of reasons.
Existing health providers may be biased and may not feel comfortable serving sexually active youth. The youth, on the other hand, may not feel comfortable because the way the services are set up does not meet their needs.
Another major barrier to access of reproductive health services for the youth is that many communities feel that unmarried youth should not be sexually active and, therefore, should not have access to reproductive health services.
REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES
It is for this reason that Kenya needs to invest in sexual and reproductive health services specifically tailored for the youth. Youth-friendly services are those that 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 and help them ward off HIV and STIs as well as early and unplanned pregnancies.
It is vital that players in the health sector ensure that as many health facilities as possible can offer youth-friendly sexual and reproductive services.
These services require resources to set up the physical infrastructure, hire the human resources, and equip the facilities. They can only become a reality if the national and county governments allocate at least 10 per cent of the health budget for family planning services, in line with the Maputo Protocol, to which Kenya is a signatory.
Investment in youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services will not only help in reducing teenage pregnancy and HIV infection rates, it will also contribute to 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 today, both the national and county governments must prioritise youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services because our future lies in the youth.
Dr Kamau is the Kenya country director, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung Kenya. [email protected]