Inadequate reproductive health services worries experts

Gladwell Muthoni was 18 years when she gave birth to her first child.

Although she had been using an emergency contraceptive pill, she fell pregnant.

“The only information I had about contraceptives was the morning-after pill which I  was introduced to by friends. I could not believe it when it failed,” says Muthoni.

Her pregnancy became a source of anguish. Her mother found out about the pregnancy on the second month and she was not amused. At the church, where she was an active member, she was stigmatised.

With hindsight, Muthoni believes it is the same people and institutions who were scorning  her about the pregnancy who had failed her .

“Neither my parents nor the church, where I was active would volunteer information or education about reproductive health,” says Muthoni.

As we mark the World Population Day today, under the theme: Family Planning is a Human Right, Muthoni’s case shows how lack of accurate information and low access to contraceptives can ruin lives.

For instance, she believes  her pregnancy occurred because she did not strictly adhere to the pill prescription.

Her experience inspired her to help other young people to get better information about reproductive health, including proper use of contraceptives.

She joined the Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), a youth-friendly facility in Nakuru town, as a volunteer.

At the organisation, youth are assisted to make  informed choices concerning their sexual and reproductive health through counselling.

According to Collins Baswony, a senior official at the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung, many adolescents cannot access  reproductive health  services.

He attributes early initiation into sex to among other factors peer pressure, influence of new media, drug and substance abuse, sexual coercion, poverty and child marriages.

The recent murder of a teenage girl in Nyandarua after she turned down sexual advances of an 11-year-old classmate is proof that lack of proper guidance of the youth on their sexuality can turn tragic.

“Lack of education, including on sexual reproductive health, means teenagers are likely to engage in relationships that can have negative outcomes,” says Cecilia Kimani, a development specialist at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Other dangers associated with lack of knowledge on reproductive health include sexually transmitted infections including HIV/Aids, dropping out of school, unsafe abortions and suicide. 

The National Council for Population and Development regional coordinator Enoch Obuolo says the Nyandarua county government should channel more resources to reproductive health services if it hopes to harness the potential of its young people.

“Programmes that offer reproductive health services are no longer available due to lack of funds,” says Obuolo.

He calls for the revival of  youth-friendly centres where young people can access reproductive health services.

There are also concerns that funding of reproductive health programmes at the county level has significantly been affected by the election of Donald Trump as US president.

“Democrats before him bank rolled RH (reproductive health) by supporting international bodies like UNFPA. Counties have yet to come to terms with that reality,” says Baswony.

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