FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
SPREADING sexual reproductive health information and services, especially among adolescent girls and youths in rural areas, has been a huge challenge with Government calling for partnership to help address the issue.
Although a number of organisations and co-operating partners have responded to Government’s appeal for joint effort in addressing sexual reproductive health-related matters, a lot still needs to be done.
According to Vice-President Inonge Wina, this challenge needs collaboration by all concerned stakeholders in order to sort it out.
Mrs Wina said the problem of reproductive health is a big issue in the rural areas, where young girls do not have sufficient information to understand the complexities of the matter.
Although Zambia could be on track in tackling issues of sexual reproductive health among adolescent girls, Mrs Wina is of the view that partnership with cooperating partners and civil society organisations would go a long way in improving health service delivery.
“The biggest problem is cultural beliefs. Parents cannot talk to their girl-children about sex and children end up getting information from outside. We need to work together to bridge this information gap,” Mrs Wina recently said at her office in Lusaka when SAfAIDS regional deputy director Rouzeh Eghtessadi and SAfAIDS Zambia country representative Chrispin Chomba paid a courtesy call on her.
The SAfAIDS directors visited the Vice-President’s office to introduce their organisation’s three-year [2018-2020] programme “Transforming Lives,” to be implemented in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, mainly targeting adolescent girls and young people.
According to SAfAIDS, the Transforming Lives programme will work to build a policy environment that ensures sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. The programme will hinge its operations on four strategic pillars which include policy development, policy advocacy, social accountability monitoring of sexual reproductive health and regional evidence and knowledge sharing.
SAfAIDS supports SADC policy-makers to strengthen the policy environment, develop response guidelines on sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) and advocate for the prevention of unintended pregnancies, said Ms Eghtessadi.
She said among other areas of focus were prevention of unsafe abortions among sexually active adolescents, as well as sharing progress and highlighting issues on the regional sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) agenda.
“We believe that policy change will improve the sexual reproductive health (SRH) outcomes of adolescents and young people in line with the SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) three [on good health and well-being] and five [on gender equality], the Maputo Plan of Action (MPoA, 2016-2020), the 90-90-90 agenda and the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexual Education and sexual reproductive health for young people,” Ms Eghtessadi said.
SAfAIDS indicates that it had tailored its Transforming Lives programme to also directly contribute to other SGDs and advocate for a more conducive policy environment that enables positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes among adolescent and young people in the SADC region.
“Zambia has been so progressive to end child marriage through formulation of policy frameworks and we are happy that you [Vice-President] are a proponent of gender equality. Even the school re-entry policy for girls is so progressive,” said Ms Eghtessadi.
And Mr Chomba said SAfAIDS Zambia has programmes running in 68 districts across the country in a bid to complement Government’s effort in adolescent and youth reproductive health.
“We have included parents, traditional and religious leaders in our programmes to make it effective for young girls to have access to health services,” he said.
Moreover, Mrs Wina said Government had combined the fight of reproductive health among the adolescent girls with that of ending early marriages and hoped that the SAfAIDS programme would add to the impetus.
“This programme by SAfAIDS is very important as it singles out adolescent girls who have been left out in the GBV programmes. Girls from the age of six and upwards have been sidelined through systematic violence that takes place in homes and families. We value sharing best practices in the SADC region. It is important to understand these issues and confront them…and hope this SAfAIDS programme will bring us results in the long run,” said the Vice-President.
In kick-starting the regional Transforming Lives advocacy programme, SAfAIDS held a stakeholder national sensitisation meeting on April 6, 2018 in Lusaka to introduce and build a common vision on the programme with national adolescent and young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights thematic sector in Zambia.
Officiating at the meeting, Minister of Gender Victoria Kalima, through the ministry’s permanent secretary Auxilia Ponga,said transforming adolescents’ and young people’s lives to access sexual and reproductive health services requires the involvement of all key stakeholders.
Ms Kalima observed that gaps exist in adolescent sexual and gender-based violence prevention,
She, however, expressed gratitude that SAfAIDS and its partners in various fields of policy development, policy advocacy, evidence and knowledge sharing, and social accountability monitoring had identified the need to transform and address sexual and reproductive health rights policy and practice gaps in Zambia.
The minister said the SAfAIDS Transforming Lives programme is in line with Government’s commitment to advancing the Vision 2030 through the 7th National Development Plan (7NDP).
Statistically, Ms Kalima said Zambia has a lot of work to be done because teenage pregnancy is at 29 percent, child marriage prevalence rate at 31 percent, while HIV prevalence is at eight percent in girls and six percent in boys, clearly on the increase compared to the adult population.
Additionally, she shared that the country has approximately 14, 000 school dropouts annually due to unintended pregnancies with a 30 percent maternal mortality rate, which she said was high.
“I would like to thank our partners and particularly the Swedish Embassy which has been supporting SAfAIDS on the Transforming Lives programme and other key stakeholders,” she said.
SAfAIDS operates in Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia with its regional office in Harare., Zimbabwe.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka