CHRISTINE CHISHA, Lusaka
FAMILY planning is now beingÂ recognised as critical not only for individualsâ€™ reproductive health and rights, but also for economic growth.
Access to sexual and reproductive health information and services improves girlsâ€™ school attendance, which leads to greater opportunities and yields benefits for the community.
However, lack of friendly reproductive health centres hinders a number of youths to access correct information.
At the age of 20, in 2010, Barbara Mwansa learned she was pregnant, as well as HIV positive.
Sharing her ordeal, Ms Mwansa said the dual stigma she faced was devastating to both her and her baby.
â€œMy family rejected me because I was HIV positive, I had nowhere to go. I lived on the street, and at times I would go to my friendsâ€™ houses. But I could not tell anyone that I was HIV positive because I feared they wouldnâ€™t want to live with me.â€
The situation was compounded by her pregnancy. â€œYou would have a nurse ask you, â€˜Why did you get pregnant at such an early age?â€™ They make you feel like you have committed a heavy crime,â€ said Ms Mwansa, who is now 24 years old and an HIV activist.
She said it was at this point that she realised that lack of accurate information on sexual and reproductive health, as well as cultural and religious obstacles are a hindrance to many youths to access correct information and be helped.
Ms Mwansa said it was until she came across the â€œAccess and Influence-Youth Sexual Health Promotionâ€, which uses the short code 4391 to which young people on all mobile networks can send an SMS requesting for Sexual Reproductive Health (SHR) information.
By using the 4391 short code, people are able to ask questions on love, abortion, sex, relationship, STIs and pregnancy as well as family planning.
â€œI was encouraged when I spoke to a counsellor, I would call at anytime and the counsellor gave me information that helped me to accept my situation and managed to reconcile with my family and now I am an activist,â€ Ms Mwansa said.
It is against this background that the Youth Vision Zambia (YVZ) has transformed its organisation to a Centre of Reproductive Health and Education.
Centre executive director Amos Mwale says the centre will be the first of its kind that will provide Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services through advocacy, education and training.
â€œThe centre will provide education and training for empowerment of citizens to realise their full potential. Policy analysis and advocacy for a responsive enabling environment and generation of evidence to inform policy advocacy and informationâ€, Mr Mwale said.
He said knowledge management for effective and efficient delivery of interventions, documentation and dissemination of lessons learnt and good practice and movement building for a consolidated action will also be included.
Mr Mwale said the Centre mainly targets young people, women and girls and policy makers and leaders at different levels.
He believes that by having a SRH centre, young people who have ideas will share with their friends and come-up with solutions.
â€œWe believe that with information, support and opportunities to act, young people in Zambia can improve their own sexual reproductive health and advance their rights.
â€œIt is against this background that the centre will strive to empower rather than embalm youth. The organisation will help youth develop an ethic of service to their communities and incorporate skills such as leadership, lobby and advocacy,â€ he said.
Mr Mwale said young people of all ages in the community will be involved in advocacy and outreach projects.
He said the creation of the centre will supplement Government efforts in achieving reproductive rights for women and girls.
Recently, vice-President Inonge Wina delivered a keynote speech in New York where she stressed the need for sustainable reproductive health programmes.
â€œAchieving universal access to reproductive health and reproductive rights, including family planning, is not only critical for maintaining and achieving good health outcomes and reducing maternal and child mortality, but also positively influence population dynamics including the demographic dividend,â€ Mrs Wina said.
She said reproductive rights are inextricably central to achieving aspirations for global sustainable development, as they can catalyse and advance realisation of other sustainable development priorities.
These include the goals on elimination of poverty, health, education, gender equality, inequalities, sustainable production and consumption, water and sanitation, energy, and environmental protection.
Mrs Wina expressed concern that large numbers of women continue to lose their lives while giving birth. She said under-five mortality remained unacceptably high.
â€œIt is therefore, important that we collectively recognise the centrality of reproductive health and rights to achieving our very ambitious program of the Post 2015 Development Agenda,â€ the Vice-President said.
Mrs Wina said Zambia has endeavoured to ensure an enabling environment for the women and girls to exercise their rights, determine the number, spacing and timing of children they would like to have.
She informed the gathering that in 2013, the Zambian Government developed an eight-year national family scale up plan as part of the countryâ€™s commitment to provide universal access to family planning services.
â€œThe Government of Zambia has since 2013 integrated comprehensive sexuality education into the national curriculum in order to promote young peopleâ€™s right to access age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health information and to empower them to protect their health, well-being and dignity,â€ said Vice-President Wina.
However, without sufficient reproductive health information and services, the country will still see high rates of adolescent pregnancy, obstetric fistula, unsafe abortion and HIV infection.
CHRISTINE CHISHA, Lusaka