During the Inter-University Dialogue on Sexuality held at Makerere University on Saturday dubbed ‘Covid-19 and Sexuality Reproductive Health and Rights in Higher Learning Institutions- Navigating Uncertainties’, reproductive health experts sought to address challenges of early and unwanted pregnancies in higher institutions of learning.
Organised by Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), Right Here Right Now, Uganda National Commission for UNESCO and other partners, the dialogue attracted various key note speakers who illuminated the need for easy access to information on reproductive and sexual health rights.
In his key note address, Dr Buyinza Kenneth, Clinical Serves Manager and RHU covid-19 response team member, noted that access to information on sexual health is still a luxury in most Ugandan tertiary institutions and universities; and that access to SRH services and commodities that would offer protection is a problem and therefore a safe sexual life is still limited.
“It is heart breaking that young people especially young women in Uganda have to suffer preventable illnesses, injuries and sometimes deaths. Studies explain that at least 25% of adolescent girls in Uganda have already entered motherhood, making Uganda’s teenage pregnancies one of the highest rates in Africa. Unfortunately, approximately 20% of such pregnancies end up in induced abortions,” he said.
He said that one study once noted that close to 300,000 induced abortions occur in Uganda each year with about 51% of them ending up with severe complications.
“For a country like Uganda whose population is predominantly young, achievement of vision 2040, SDGs and other development plans can’t happen without deliberately investing and supporting implementation of holistic and inclusive programmes that will have young people take full control over their lives,” he said.
Henry Semakula from the Health and HIV unit Ministry of Education and Sports said, “We learnt in the lockdown that over 15 million young people were sent home and have been going through several challenges including those of reproductive health.”
He noted that a number of university students got pregnant during the lockdown; because they thought that the lockdown would take a few days and therefore sought refugee around Kampala.
“What proceeded were unholy marriages, early pregnancies and even the Sexually Transmitted Infections which are on the rise, with all the other troubles including defilement, rape among others,” Semakula said.
He said that there has been a challenge as parents thought that it is the role of teachers, Civil Society Organisations to discuss sexuality issues with their children, a misconception that has given birth to sexual abuse and incest among others.
“The Ministry of Education and Sports is very committed to the plight of our young people. We are not only interested in their academics and career but we know that before they excel, they must be healthy,” he said.
Mr Samson Udho, midwifery and women’s health lecturer at Lira University said, “There’s no one solution that can be prescribed for early pregnancies. As far as am concerned, we need to deconstruct the beliefs around sexuality. Many people don’t understand the various issues around sexuality and unless they do, they can’t prescribe the best medicine for teenage pregnancies.”
“The reality is that the decision to conceive; whether intended or unintended, rests solely on an individual; the girl and the boy. Therefore, the best we can do is to empower young people with appropriate information around sexuality; so that when a girl is touched, she doesn’t perceive any touch as love,” Udho said.
Dr Peace Musiimenta, lecturer at school of women and gender, said that young people should be listened to.
“Parents, it’s high time we started learning to listen to our children; teach them about sexuality and what they need to do to navigate the challenges that come with sexuality,” she said.
“I would like the government, institutions of learning and parents to partner and come up with interventions that will enable students to navigate the challenges on sexuality,” she added.
Mr Jackson Chekweko, the executive director of RHU said that university students and all young people should abstain from engaging in sexual activities while still in school.