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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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The Need For Youth-Friendly Adolescent Sexual And Reproductive Health Services

By Olindah Tariro Chademana

According to the United Nations, youths are individuals aged between 15 and 24 years. Youth-friendly services, as defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), are health services that respect the rights of young people and take their diverse sexual and reproductive lives into account. The World Health Organisation (WHO) supports this definition and adds that youth-friendly health services should be trusted and catered specifically to young people, with the principles of accessibility, acceptability, equity, appropriateness, and effectiveness in mind. It is crucial that health and social services, as well as policies, are designed to meet the unique needs of young people aged 10 to 24. To address the specific health concerns and challenges faced by young people, the WHO introduced the concept of youth-friendly services, which aim to provide high-quality, confidential, non-judgmental, and easily accessible healthcare. Adolescence is a stage of human development that encompasses significant physical, psychological, and social changes, as well as the exploration of new roles and identities (World Health Organisation).
 
The need for youth-friendly adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) services is an urgent concern highlighted by both the WHO and the Zimbabwe government, as it directly impacts the country’s progress towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 3, which focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. By 2030, the government and its partners aim to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including family planning, information and education, as well as the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programs, as stated in target 3 under Sustainable Development Goal 3. Adolescents face distinct health challenges such as high rates of maternal mortality, HIV infection, and sexual violence (WHO, 2019). Youth-friendly ASRH services can address these issues by providing confidential, non-judgmental, and easily accessible care (Chandra-Mouli et al., 2018).It is commendable that the Zimbabwe government’s Ministry of Health and Child Care has launched initiatives to establish youth-friendly corners in health facilities and train healthcare providers in adolescent-friendly care (MoHCC, 2020). These efforts aim to create a supportive environment where adolescents feel comfortable seeking help. Scholars such as Chandra-Mouli et al. (2018) and Michau et al. (2015) emphasize the importance of involving peers and communities in service delivery and design, using a co-creation approach aligned with the mantra “Nothing about us without us.” This approach can reduce stigma and increase access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) information and services. Moreover, youth-friendly ASRH services can improve health outcomes, such as reducing maternal mortality and HIV infection (WHO, 2019).

Despite these efforts, challenges persist. Stigma and discrimination against adolescents seeking ASRH services remain significant barriers (Michau et al., 2015). Furthermore, the limited availability and accessibility of youth-friendly services in rural areas hinder progress (MoHCC, 2020). To address these challenges, scholars recommend scaling up youth-friendly services, providing comprehensive training for healthcare providers, and engaging with communities to reduce stigma and promote access (Chandra-Mouli et al., 2018). Additionally, involving peers and communities in service delivery and design can increase the effectiveness of youth-friendly ASRH services. Furthermore, stakeholder collaborations are required to enhance the spread and reach of youth-friendly services, including in colleges and other communities. This can be achieved with support from other line Ministries under the spirit of a multisectoral approach. A multisectoral approach would entail various stakeholders, government agencies, and partners joining forces to ensure the spread and reach of youth-friendly services through awareness campaigns, training health providers, subsidizing services, and having other youths serve as peer educators and champions.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that there is an urgent need for youth-friendly ASRH services, as supported by publications from WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, and the Ministry of Health. This will go a long way in increasing access to health services for youths, ensuring that services are confidential, accessible, and appropriate for them. This will improve access, uptake, and acceptability among youths, ultimately improving health outcomes for youths and adolescents in Zimbabwe.

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About the author: Tariro Olindah Chademan is a final year Health Services Management Diploma at Harare Polytechnic. She is a Health advocate.

While the author acknowledged and referenced articles from other organisations and individuals, the views expressed in this opinion piece, as well as any errors or omissions, are the sole responsibility of the author.

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