UNG PEOPLE’S SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS IN MALAWI MUST IMPROVE WITH NEW GLOBAL GOALS
Efforts to increase contraceptive use in Malawi have long been part and parcel of family planning campaigns, but adolescents are rarely included.
Past few year, 193 governments (including Malawi) gathered at the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York to adopt new global sustainable development goals. Goal three is to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. In Malawi, and many other countries around the world, this will require greater understanding of young people and their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including both family planning and HIV services.
Increasing efforts to tackle adolescent AIDS is particularly urgent considering that HIV has become the second leading cause of adolescent deaths globally and the number one in Africa (UNAIDS). And the fact that AIDS-related deaths are declining in all age groups apart from 10-19 years old, shows just how underserved adolescents are when it comes to accessing HIV information, and prevention and treatment services.
On PEER-LED ADOLESCENT SERVICES, Adolescents undergo rapid physical, intellectual and emotional development, and have unique needs when it comes to accessing sexual and reproductive health services.
In Malawi, almost in all health facilities have what is called, “youth friendly health services”, which takes a peer-led approach. The initiative provides free youth-friendly HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, such as male and female condoms, STI screening, HIV counselling and testing and family planning services.
Through the ICS (UkV and ICS Volunteers) volunteering program, COIDA reached out to more than 3350 young people aged 10-24 in TA Mabilabo, Mzikubola and M’mbelwa in Mzimba District. It also trained 85 young people as peer educators who are becoming role models in protecting and promoting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people living with HIV.
Under this program, young people are playing a significant role in relaying services to their peers, particularly those who are most at risk of dropping out of school, HIV, sex workers and men who have sex with men. Volunteers and Peer educators have been organizing outreach activities, condom distribution and demonstration, locally made sanitary pad making, referral for psycho social support (PSS) counselling and follow up for those on treatment.
Girls need a special strategy to reduce cultural and traditional attributes to school absenteeism. COIDA is promoting locally made sanitary pads. The International Service project (ICS) volunteers prayed a great role in promotion of locally made sanitary pads. mother groups in Milala and Kaulira communities have been trained on how best they can locally make sanitary pads for their girls. This was done bearing on the reality that, most girls in these communities had problems as far as their school life style was concerned. “Handling menstruation was problematic for me and many of my friends in our area. We would use wads of chitenje materials or sometimes just wear multiple layers of underwear. In many cases, we just resorted not to go to school until the cycle was over; and this meant missing out 5 days of school sometimes”, explains Sarah, a standard 7 pupils at Kaulira primary school.
With this problem, the project under ICS Progressio implemented by COIDA thought that training mother groups to train girls in the communities on locally made sanitary pads would at least reduce the problem of absenteeism among girls whenever they are experiencing their cycles.
Through this training, the Milala and kaulira community in Mzimba have admitted that, the project under ICS Progressio has significantly not just helped reduce girls’ absenteeism in schools but also enhanced their sexual reproductive health life since the girls’ worries have diminished. A standard 8 pupil at Milala primary school, Mtinkhe says, “thanks to COIDA, I do not worry anymore when menstrual cycle starts, wearing my locally made pads, I just go to school comfortably”. The project has further helped some community members find an extra source of income as they sew and sell the pads.
A diagram of locally made sanitary pad.
According to Loveness Chiliko Phiri (23), “Peer education is an everyday thing that they do. They support each other because most youth lack information and they confide in each other better than parents. Being a peer educator is not easy, and having knowledge about health topics is only one part of it. I learnt how to teach about condoms, but the key thing is communication with the partner before sexual intercourse. If you don’t communicate properly you end up having unprotected sex which is risky to our lives.
“Counselling adolescents is like a hobby, I feel comfort when they confide in me. It is effective because they can understand and make a lasting improvement in their lives and that’s what I want the world to remember of me, changing lives of HIV positive people,” she says laughing.
MALAWI AND THE GLOBAL GOALS
While the millennium development goals expired last year Malawi unlikely met the targets to reduce the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters or to halt and reverse the spread of HIV (UNDP).
But with the adoption of the new sustainable development goals it’s an opportunity to start afresh with new momentum. Young people were not given much opportunity to play a role in the last set of global goals, if they are given a chance this time maybe Malawi, and the rest of the world, can hope for greater success.
*Communities in Development Activities, COIDA has be hosting over 40 UKV and 40 ICS volunteers from April 2016 through Progression, Malawi.