The 2020 Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance Week was staged between August 10 to 15, 2020. The 5-day event was conducted in Jinja, Eastern Uganda. The project is done yearly and has been running for the last 5 years, bringing members of the Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance together.
The theme for the 5-year project, which ends this year, is ‘Get up, speak out for youth rights’. It is a consortium of 8 other organisations running in 4 districts of Jinja, Iganga, Bugiri and Mayuge.
These organisations include Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), Reach a Hand Uganda, Straight Talk Foundation, Centre for Human Rights, Uganda Network of Young People Living with AIDS (UNYPA) among others.
This year, Jinja district was chosen because of the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and inaccessibility to sexual and reproductive health services in the region, according to SRHR Alliance Uganda.
The alliance week started on Monday August 10, 2020, with an inter-generational dialogue at Sunset Hotel international in Jinja. This was intended to devise means of integrating young people’s SRHR into national programs.
It should be noted that this year’s alliance week was commemorated under a theme; Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights for National Development.
There were representatives from the Jinja district local government, Busoga kingdom, performing arts like Geo steady who is an ambassador for Sexual reproductive rights for young people, among others.
SRH and curative health services were provided during the alliance week such as family planning, HIV testing and counselling, STI screening, cervical cancer screening, blood donation among others.
“The primary focus was to empower young people to overcome their sexual reproductive challenges especially during these covid-19 times,” Quraish Matovu, the Youth Coordinator at Reproductive Health Uganda stressed.
All operations were conducted through the local government health structure, the district health office, which is under the Ministry of Health. The team also worked together with the assistant commissioner adolescent and school health at Ministry of Health, Dr. Dina Nakiganda.
The provision of youth friendly health services was also discussed on Busoga radio during the alliance week.
“Organizations like Restless Uganda are having help-lines which have been very beneficial in enabling communities report cases of defilement, rape and domestic violence, a good initiative to curb these vices,” Dr. Nakiganda told the media during the outreach.
Four outreach sessions were conducted in Jinja heath centres: Buwenge health centre IV, Butayaga HC III, Budondo HC Centre IV and Bugembe HC IV.
“We also worked with the Covid-19 response task force of the district to ensure that SOPs are adhered to through temperature gun measuring, hand washing, disinfection of places. We had sex education within these communities and also at different service points,” Matovu confirmed.
In Buwenge Health Centre IV in Jinja district, an integrated community outreach was conducted and people had access to free sexual reproductive health information and services.
Naigino Scovia, a midwife and focal person for SRHR at the health centre, said that such outreaches bring services closer to the people.
Due to the increased numbers of cases of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers during this lockdown, Naigino said, it is of great importance for sexually active young people to prevent such cases through proper use of condoms.
For this reason, the team distributed condoms and demonstrated how to use them. There were HIV testing and counselling services and health talks with the locals, among other activities.
Myths and misconceptions attached to condom use were also reviewed and quashed in Budondo town.
Reports from the Uganda Blood Transfusion Services indicate that Uganda’s health system uses 2,500 units of blood daily. However, there is a deficiency as only 1500 units are collected.
Hellen Grace Ayunda, a recruitment officer at Jinja blood bank said that everyone can donate blood as long as they are healthy, above 17 years and 50 kgs.
“The people you donate blood to, are children below 5 years, pregnant women, accident victims and those scheduled for surgery,” she explained.
According to the 2011 Uganda Aids Indicator Survey (UAIS) report, Uganda ranks among the top 10 countries in the world with high adolescent HIV incident. Approximately 3% of adolescent girls aged 15 – 19 years live with HIV.
Hence, free HIV testing and counselling services were provided to the adolescent youth during the alliance week.
Addressing Gender Based Violence
In Busoga region, support was offered to residents whose rights were being violated. There was facilitation of a legal and rights mentorship camp at Budondo HC IV. A legal aid tent was availed through which legal support was provided on cases related to SRHR and follow-ups made.
Partners of SRHR Alliance Uganda used the media to reach out to the adolescent youth. Panelists representing the Ministry of Health, RHU and Flep Uganda discussed better provision and access of youth friendly SRH services on Busoga radio.
Chris Kyewe, the executive director at Flep Uganda, said that in order to harness the demographic dividend, there’s need to invest highly in young people so that they can also take up strategic roles of leadership.
It was observed that there were many cases of early pregnancies during the reach out.
“During the service delivery, we were faced with the reality of teenage pregnancies. Before we provided contraceptives, we did pregnancy tests for those who had doubts and received many positive tests amongst teenagers,” Matovu confirmed.
However, some young people below 21 years sought reproductive and birth control services, something which stood out during the program.
A correspondent of SRHR Alliance Uganda said that teen pregnancies are on the rise during this period because “most girls are living with their abusers.”
“Many parents are tired of having their children home, yet they have no alternatives,” he added.
It was observed that there was a very big need for health services and the turn up of youth from various communities was high, unfortunately, whose needs couldn’t all be satisfied. Some youth, however, shunned the services due to the SOPs, which they wouldn’t adhere to.
“Some people thought that we would give them money and also treat other diseases, yet the project focuses mainly on sexual and reproductive health services,” confirmed a team leader from SRHR Alliance.
What needs to be done
Matovu said that youth need to be represented and their views need to be heard.
“Government should mainstream meaningful participation of the youth in health structures,” he suggested.
In the same vein, Dr Nakiganda said, “We are working to make sure that there’s a young person on the district task force to ensure representation of the youth and having there issues attended to.”