MIKE MUGALA, Lusaka
DESPITE Government, the private sector and non-governmental organisations scoring positive strides in the provision of health care services, achieving
full access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) rights is still a challenge.
Though the urban population seems to be at an advantage in terms of easy access to health care services, more still needs to be done, with specific reference to access to information on SRH rights.
The information gap on sexual reproductive health rights is wider between ages 15 to 19, compared to those aged 22 and above.
In addition, statistics have shown that girls get exposed to sex earlier than boys and this makes them more vulnerable to pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and in some cases sexual abuse.
Parents have taken it upon themselves to educate their children but cultural barriers and beliefs seem to be a hindrance to them, especially in situations where the girl child is concerned.
Even at 26, Kennedy Chisasa is not aware that it is his right to walk into a health institution and access contraceptives.
“Every time I want to sleep with my girlfriend, I walk to the nearest drug store and buy a pack of condoms at K4, in most cases, I don’t plan that I will have sex on a particular day with my girlfriend and the nearest place to access condoms is a chemist,” he said.
He explained that he is shy to approach a clinic to ask for condoms and it takes him a lot of time to get to the clinic.
It is important to note that many youths like Kennedy, especially in high-density areas, are ignorant of their right to access contraceptives for free at a health institution due to lack of information on SHR rights.
John Mvula, 18, on the other hand has slept with his girlfriend, but does not have an idea of how to use a condom.
As our conversations gets more detailed, he begins to smile and looking down when asked if he is aware it is his right to go to the clinic and ask for condoms.
“I heard of condoms, yes, but I have no idea of how to use them, I might want to go to the clinic but how do I approach a health worker to get condoms,” he said
And a girl only identified as Agness, 17, admitted having a boyfriend but has no idea about contraceptives and how to use them.
She is vulnerable to pregnancy in an event that she sleeps with her boyfriend.
“I have over heard older women in our neighbourhood talk about injections and pills but I have no idea about how they can prevent pregnancy,” Agness said.
Hildah Chirwa, 15, on the other hand, has heard her mother talk about SHR but it is difficult to have a full understanding on the subject.
Her mother does not narrow down the subject for her to have full knowledge and know how to protect herself in an event that she has sex.
Though she has over heard her friends talk about it at school, Hildah is of the view that she need to understand the subject fully.
“My mother always tells me that I should stay away from sleeping with boys and that I may become pregnant, she has been attending programmes on SRH.
“I have only been seeing the books she brings from the same programme, but it is actually strange for me to hear that I have rights to access contraceptives,” she said.
And a man only identified as Chris, who owns a drug store in Kuku township said he only sells condoms and other contraceptives to people who are 22 years old and above.
He believes that teenagers must not be allowed access to condoms and other contraceptives because they lack proper knowledge on how to use them.
Chris said though teens are indulging in sex, it is morally wrong to give them condoms because they got more exposed to sex and this corrupts their morals.
“When a teenager comes to buy a condom or other contraceptive pills, I chase them and encourage them to stay away from sex because they are not ready to handle the consequences,” he said.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia (PPAZ) has observed that many young people lack the confidence and knowledge to negotiate for safer sex or plan for contraceptive needs due to lack of education and counselling.
PPAZ executive director Joanne Kamwale said the association will continue to identify and scale up effective strategies to help young people make informed, healthy choices about their sexual and reproductive lifestyle.
“PPAZ works with over 1,700 young volunteers to provide services and information among fellow young people.
“Our approach is informed by the knowledge that young people are a diverse group with varying constraints, choices, and preferences, and that young people need to be at the centre of developing new innovative models and solutions for delivering SRH services.” She said.
Ms Kamwale said PPAZ has prioritised the introduction and scaling up of ‘youth friendly’ approaches to education and service delivery.
She said translating the sexual rights of young people into practice not only involves raising awareness among young people for them to claim their rights, but working with duty bearers, such as health providers, educators and policymakers for them to fulfil these rights in law and in services.
Ms Kamwale said PPAZ will continue to work with the ministry of health and other stakeholders to educate young people on SRH across the country.