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County Focusing on young people to turn the tide on HIV/Aids

Nakuru County Government is in the process of training health workers who will be deployed at the grassroots to sensitise youths on HIV/Aids threats following a rise in infection among the youthful population.

County Director for Gender Selina Nkatha said the County was putting in place community programmes to create awareness among the youths on the impact of teenage pregnancies and HIV/Aids on health and the economy.

Speaking during a Gender Technical Working Group meeting, Ms Nkatha highlighted some of the interventions that are bring considered which included keeping adolescents in schools, addressing mental health struggles and substance abuse among the youths.

She said through public-private partnerships, the devolved unit will craft a harmonised and sustainable communication strategy that will effectively reach the youths, adding that there was need to contain the spike in HIV infections among adolescents, young adults and youth aged 29 and below who she said account for more than 42 per cent of all new HIV infections.

The sensitisation campaign, she added was also geared towards reintegrating teenage mothers back to school, curbing early pregnancies, ending Sexual Gender Based Violence among adolescents and ending drug and substance abuse among the age group.

“We will ensure that the youth get the necessary information on sexual and reproductive health. The information is important in addressing the triple threats of teenage pregnancies, sexual gender-based violence, and the spread of HIV/AIDS among adolescents,” added Ms Nkatha.

The Director assured that Governor Susan Kihika’s administration had committed more resources towards enhancing sexual and reproductive health services which were specifically tailored for the youth.

According to the Director, investment in youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services will not only help in reducing teenage pregnancy and HIV infection rates, but will also contribute to improving maternal and newborn health as well as reducing the need for procuring unsafe abortions.

She said the County’s health workers were undergoing attitudinal transformation necessary for provision of quality adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) services, which she added was an essential pillar to tackling the needs of adolescents and young people.

Nkatha observed that many young people in need of reproductive health services may either shy away from seeking or be denied access due to biased health providers who may not feel comfortable serving sexually active youth, or the youths on the other hand may not feel comfortable because of the way the services are set up does not meet their needs.

Another major barrier to access of reproductive health services for the youth, the Director added was that many communities feel that unmarried youth should not be sexually active and, therefore, should not have access to reproductive health services.

County Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Prevention Coordinator Ms Jessica Mung’ao noted that lack of awareness of reproductive health and rights could be limiting young people from making informed choices adding that more information translated to more youths making better choices, such as safe sexual practices, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV and seeking help over sexual violence.

She said young people wanted spaces where they could have confidential conversations with trained professionals that are youth-friendly and free of judgment while seeking sexual reproductive health (SRH).

“Lack of qualified personnel and privacy, and unfriendly or judgmental staff, discourage them from seeking services such as counselling. Teenage girls get advice from their peers and that easily leads to misinformation,” observed the coordinator.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), too many young people still make the transition from childhood to adulthood receiving inaccurate, incomplete or judgment-laden information that affects their physical, social and emotional development. As a result, they become vulnerable and exposed to harmful outcomes.

Equally, despite studies showing that comprehensive sensitisation drives reduce HIV/Aids incidences and teen pregnancy, poor and mixed messaging has continued to hamper their effectiveness.

In a recent survey, Kenya was ranked third globally in teen pregnancies with 8 per cent of adolescents being infected with HIV weekly. One in every five teenagers is either a mother or pregnant with their first child.

By Esther Mwangi

 

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