Saturday, 22 November 2014

A Sad Tale of Young People's SRHR Trials and Tribulations in Malawi

Will the ordeals which young people go through just to access Sexual and Reproductive Health Services ever end in Malawi? Every day, sexual reproductive health issues are menacing the lives of young Malawians right in front of the Youth Policy and Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) Standards. 

The Youth Policy of Malawi recognizes Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as one of the key issues that needs to be dealt with in order to serve and save the leaders of tomorrow. 

It is very distressing to realize that magnitudes of young girls are still dropping out of school because of early and unplanned pregnancies. It is tear-jerking to hear that a total number of eight primary school girls somewhere in Mangochi  district have failed to write their Primary School Leaving Certificate because of pregnancies. 

The fact that SRHR Service providers disclosed that STI cases among young people are occurring at an average of 7 to 8 cases per month in a certain area within Chiradzulu district signals us that something is not right. It is like we have turned our priorities upside down. The whole country, mainly those at the helm are talking about sustaining our resources for the youth. On the other hand, the youth are losing their lives and failing to continue their studies due to a beast that hides in young people’s sex and sexuality.

Initiatives to banish early pregnancies, child marriages, high HIV and STI prevalence among the youth are in place but there are a few spanners in the wheels of effective implementation of such initiatives. For example, why are the youth failing to access YFHS simply because they do not know that the Health Centre that is in their community is a Service Delivery Point? Is it not just an issue of raising awareness, electing a simple signpost?  

Something has to be done; otherwise our ears will continue to hear sad stories like the Chiradzulu case whereby pregnancies among young people have been placed at 60%.  For emphasis’ sake, at Namitambo health Centre in Chiradzulu district, out of 120 mothers who deliver babies per month, about 113 are youths below 24 years old of which about 43 are below 19 years old.

The need to look at the bottlenecks that are blocking the progress of YFHS provision is inevitable and the call for comprehensive sexuality education for the youth in school should be given the much needed push. 

How can a girl go to school and pay for her examination fees only to defer the exam because of pregnancy? This to a certain extent proves that young people out there know nothing about their sexuality and reproductive health hence they stumble in their trails due to lack of knowledge. 

For so many years, young people in Malawi have been trying to access SRH services and they go through a lot whenever they want to get reliable information concerning their sexual and reproductive make up. 

The country expects the youth to excel in their studies, be active citizens in supporting  a number of community development initiatives. However, such a situation is not possible unless the SRH trials and tribulations which these young people go through are addressed amicably.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Porn and the Threat it Poses on Young Lives

About five days ago, I was extremely engaged in facilitating some discussions on young people’s WhatsApp Forum called The Youth Breeze. On this forum, young people freely discuss, learn and share important information on issues to do with Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) as well as other things that may hinder them from realizing their dreams. In addition, young people also benefit from the creation of this innovative approach as they use it as a resource centre where they get correct and reliable SRHR information from the Administrator and Moderators of the forum. 

On this particular day, the topic of discussion was on whether the members of the group think or believe that pornography has the potential to fuel HIV/AIDS among young people.
There was a cooked up debate and I really enjoyed how the members were throwing in their views and back up points. By the end of the day, what came out clearly was that pornography lures young people into sexual promiscuity. 

One well-regarded member of the group said bluntly that what comes next after watching pornographic films is to do what one saw. The fellow said, the issue of abstinence becomes distant and, ‘if you can’t abstain use a condom’, messages get completely quashed   by a certain demonic possession that pushes one towards the imminent danger.  

Here, I think I should add that the consequences are just too much and you cannot fathom that it all started with what one thought was just innocent moving pictures. 

I tried to find out the reasons why young people who are fully aware of pornography and its attendant perils still glue their eyes on TV screens to watch it. 

Thus, peer pressure seems to be a vice that has led a lot of young people in labyrinth zones. Peer pressure has not spared the youth from the tendency of watching and sharing pornographic materials either. Most young people who watch these addictive and vulgar videos were introduced to them by what they loosely call ‘friends’. What does the future of the world hold when young school-going children, instead of studying, are spending their precious time watching something that will trigger them to sleep around? 

In essence, during our Youth Breeze Forum, pornography was found guilty of indoctrinating innocent young minds who end up in getting early pregnancies and its attendant challenges, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV infection. All these are bad enough not only to an individual young person, but to the society as a whole.

I view of this; I firmly believe that young people have no option but to stay away from pornographic materials. Issues of morality aside, we only live once and it does not make any sense at all to watch something you fully know will bring disastrous consequences to your future.

As manifested by what happens next, pornography is the enemy of the well-being of young people in this world and it is a vice which is putting spanners in the wheels of an HIV-Free Generation agenda.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Some Things which Young People Should Avoid and Consider Carefully

In September, I enjoyed a discussion with a group of six young people from Chisala area in Nkhata Bay district. Our main focus of discussion was on HIV/AIDS, Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and young people.
 There are so many things which young people should not dare do in their lives. However, in this entry, I have carefully selected only a few.

It is an undeniable fact that HIV and AIDS is one of the most perplexing enigmas of our time. Every day, the lethal virus is menacing one precious life after another. It still has no cure but relief lies in the fact that we know how it is spread.  There is no need to underscore the fact that up to now, the disease has no cure and the quest for an antidote is still on.  In this light, the window of hope lies in the youth of today. The world expects them to remodel their lives styles so as to have an HIV/AIDS free generation in the years to come. 

In the aforementioned round table I had with my young friends on HIV/AIDS and the youth, the following transpired;

Firstly, my young friends from Chisala stated that young people should avoid having sex as one way of preventing themselves from contracting the virus (HIV). 15 year old Ted was deadly serious and added that most young people of Malawi take sex as just a form of entertainment. His other buddies were in total agreement and almost each one of them was telling me how he thinks young people perceive sex and the most notable ones being ‘a game’, an experimental procedure’ and ‘a hobby’

I was not really sure and I now wish I had asked whether abstinence came first as an unwritten agreement between them. One thing that kept me amazed is the fact that these youngsters, whom I am glorifying in this entry, gave me an impression that they find time to discuss and seek expert opinions on matters concerning their Sexual and Reproductive Health. This trait is very rare among young people of today who are more interested in what they call Swagger and all that but not their Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Secondly, the young friends of mine, whom chance only allowed them to bask in the reverence of me for only four days, mentioned that the youth should avoid the tendency of shunning HTC Services that are provided free of charge in most public health facilities.

 My four-day young and bright friends told me that most of their peers believe that HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) is not for young people. I was told that most adolescents, sadly, believe with firm conviction that young people, even those above the age of 13, are not allowed to go for HTC in hospitals. They also think that going for HIV Counselling is only for married couples. 

I was very much awed by this kind of perception and I reserved my comment. It was time for my friends to tell me how the situation is like in their area. Furthermore, I really wanted to get as many responses as possible from this group more especially on things which young people should not do in their lives.
On a third note, it was time for Raphael who seemed a bit reticent during the roundtable discussion until at this particular point. I immediately noticed that a cap that was on his head, covering his eyes had some scribbles worth a read. The writing on his hat read ‘H.A.T’ and below was a full meaning of the acronym – Hungry Angry Tiger! Without asking, he told me that what is written on his hat also happens to be his alias. 

The boy codenamed H.A.T stated that young people should stay away from ‘Nanzi’ (Indian hemp). He further explained that Nanzi and alcohol abuse are two vices that compel young people to think in a roundabout manner. He said once young people are under the influence of one or both, they indulge in casual sex, vandalism and other bad  things. 

His esteemed friends chipped in and they said in a chorus that  alcohol is not really bad but when an underage gulps the stuff down his or her throat it disturbs the mind like cocaine. They said the consequences are always disastrous and they strongly advocated against the use of Indian hemp and underage drinking. 

After our first fruitful discussion that afternoon, I was scheduled to meet them again after sunset. I was supposed to do a screening of several films and among them was a YONECO, PFP and Temwa film called Mawa Langa (My Tomorrow). Luckily, the film had very important HIV and AIDS messages to young people- young people like H.A.T, Ted and the others!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Are You in a Prison without your Knowledge?

Setting up limits and boundaries (dos and don'ts) sounds like a self-defeating concept.  Most young people feel that it is like employing yourself as a prison warden to limit your own freedoms. However, living a life of recklessness with no principles or what so ever, is a prison where they lock themselves into. 

This abruptly happens without realizing that the other option was where interminable freedoms were.  Why would a young person just do anything that comes to his/her mind and just put into action what ever the peers are saying?

Bluntly, an irresponsible life is like being brought, while blindfolded, to a very big prison with a very big yard where you cannot see the barbed-wire fences. It is a kind of prison where you brave the hardships just because you are ignorant of where you are. Day in day out, you feel as if you are happy and force yourself to be in a jovial mood. One thing that is for sure is that you cannot go anywhere unless you know that you are in a prison and you are innocent – You will be allowed out.

One sad thing is that most young people who imprisoned themselves in this gigantic prison are on death row even though they are innocent.  Once they realize that they are in a prison, they can simply say I want to get out and they will be unconfined right on the spot. One sad thing is that most young people realize this and try to say I want to get out on their last day, during their last second. On this last day, it is difficult to reverse things and nobody goes out of this prison on his or her last day… No, matter how hard you shout, you still face the electric chair! 

The above account of an analogy between a reckless life and life in a prison without your knowledge is really applicable to the way some young people live and ruin their precious young lives.  They feel that abstinence from sex is impossible even though it is very possible. They reach an extent of engaging themselves in unprotected sex.  They have a choice to have sex if their efforts to abstain have been futile so long as they protect themselves from STIs as well as HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies etc.  

However, due to the fact that they are in a prison, they feel constrained and fail to explore better options. They subconsciously feel very limited and they do not even expect that there are choices they make. Prisoners are not choosers; they simply get what is available in their vicinity! The consequences of unsafe sex cannot be overemphasized; it is a long list that includes unwanted early pregnancies as well as contraction of HIV and STIs. 

If you are young person and you are in this kind of a prison, just shout; I want to get out! and you shall be let free to enjoy your young life and to plan for your future! 

Now! There are several ways that can help young people to avoid finding themselves in such a mess. Among the ways is to seek advice from people who are well versed in matters that concern sexual and reproductive health like Youth Friendly Health Service (YFHS) Providers, youth development oriented organisations and institutions like YONECO. 
Does a person who is on death row plan for his or her future outside the prison walls? If you are in, now is the time for you to get out of this prison and focus on who you want to be in the future!

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A Bright Future For Young People Lies in giving them the Right Options

On 26th September, the world commemorated the World Contraceptive Day under a very enlightening theme; “it’s your life, your future and know your option’’.
The theme is talking directly to everyone who wishes the best for him or herself and young people out there should take heed of what the theme is implying.

The Malawi government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are supporting communities in an effort to ease access of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) Services in health centres. Of particular interest is the fact that the youth are not excluded in the list of the recipients of the SRH Services.

However, it is very saddening to note that young people, more especially those who live in the remotest parts of the country, do not have easy access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Services like contraceptives. 

Consequently, such areas register shocking statistics on early pregnancies, maternal mortality rates, obstetric fistula and unsafe abortions. 

Thus, it is an undeniable fact that the provision of Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS) is an aspect that has to be considered carefully if the country is to deal with sexual and reproductive health problems that are affecting young people.

As a deliberate effort to make sure that the youth have access to SRH services, the government, NGOs and other development partners have supported the intensification of YFHS. Despite such efforts, there are other factors that are shocking progress in the implementation of YFHS. 

There are some factors that have led to problems in the provision youth health friendly services in the health centres where YFHS Corners have been established. The factors include the attitude of service providers towards the youth. This is a scenario whereby health workers are judgemental and treat young people who go for SRH services as sinners or ill-bred kids.  

Adolescents easily perceive such attitudes and it always makes them feel unwelcome. As a result, they shun away from accessing what they rightfully deserve due to fear and shyness and eventually end up in deep water. 

In addition, another factor is that communities, more especially the youth themselves, are not aware of Youth Health Friendly Service Corners that have been established in health centres across the country. 

On this factor, there is a need to make young people aware of YFHS and what they offer.Young people really need to know about contraceptives and how they work. In this way, it will help them establish the truth other than believing in misconceptions and myths about family planning methods and procedures.

In light of all this, it is necessary to intensify and implement more activities on youth sexual reproductive health and rights and encourage the youth to abstain and if not, they need to use contraceptives.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Whether to sanction the youth to access Family Planning Methods and CSE or let them get Early Pregnancies and STIs?

Whether the title of this blog post sounds hypothetical or not, the right answer lies in the question itself; should we allow young people to access family planning methods and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) or the other option of denying them access and let them get Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and fall pregnant?

In the name of what is loosely called ‘protecting the moral fabric’; children out there are having their own children, young people are dropping out of school and dying due to early pregnancies, AIDS and some more are becoming sterile due to STIs and unsafe abortions.

 By extension, unsafe abortions are also claiming many lives of young girls every year. Furthermore, it is an irrefutable fact that obstetric fistula is a nightmare that await young pregnant girls in the maternity wings of our clinics. 

The unemployment rate of young people in Malawi is astonishingly high. However, does anyone know that some of these unemployed youths are supposed to be in school? What drives them into the labour market is the fact that they impregnated or got pregnant then dropped out of school and found themselves in streets. From sun rise till sun set, they are moving up and down looking for ways of earning an income to support their babies who were born by chance and not by choice. 

A careful analysis of the aforementioned problematic issues pertaining to sexual reproductive health of young people will inform you that each individual consequence also has its accompanying pitiful aftermaths. There has to be an answer to such challenges.

The advantages of abstinence from sex have, for so long, been preached but nothing has really changed. Sexually active young people are still facing the consequences of unsafe sex. Of course, there are some young people who are practicing abstinence but at the same time, a good number of them are indulging in unprotected sex and they are constantly challenged by the hectic outcomes. 

The world in general  and Malawi in particular, should not be in such a fix where by it is losing the potential that is in otherwise bright young people due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education and lack of access to family planning methods that can protect them from all this. Something has to be done because it shows that we need to do our mathematics and get our calculations right. 

Before I stop punching the buttons, I would like to state the factor that prompted me to write this blog. A Primary School Education Advisor somewhere in Chiradzulu district told me and my colleagues during an interface meeting that a total number of six girls did not sit for their Primary School leaving certificate because they were pregnant. He added that such cases are a usual feature in many primary schools and his facial expression said, ‘enough is enough, something has to be done to avoid such cumbersome scenarios’.

Sadly still, he further stated that such children do not go back to school after delivery as they are burdened with the task of raising their children, a thing which is not easy more especially to a girl who is below the age of 15.

I regret the fact that they had had an unprotected sex. Who knows where their academic journey could have taken them to? Nonetheless, all is not lost, such young girls and I understand there are a lot more others out there, need support and encouragement for them to go back to school and revive their dreams. 

All this is happening in a society where the elders and the society at large are saying comprehensive sexuality education is a taboo subject that should not be offered to the youths.  The same elders wear brave faces and say family planning methods are not for the youth. They say this amidst cases of early pregnancies and they fully know that young people of today will grow and have families of their own in the near future. So! Why not allow them to plan for that now?