Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for young people should not be overlooked because of COVID-19
In committing to the Agenda 2030, member states recognised that the dignity of the individual is fundamental. Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) is about ensuring health and promotes wellbeing for all at all ages; whereas SDG 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girl. Among other things, SDG 5 also emphasizes on the provision to women and girls with equal access to education and health care.
While there has been some progress made over the years, there are fears that this may be reversed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This article looks at views on how young women in Africa perceive the lockdown being implemented in most of the African countries and will mainly focus on Sexual and Reproductive Health Services (SRHS) for young during COVID-19.
While most of the focus has been shifted and resources diverted to the COVID-19 response, the availability and accessibility of SRH services for the youth is still crucial during this time. Most countries are reportedly already running short of important SRH medicines. It is unfortunate that in all of this, it is the marginalised groups that are at risk of falling through the cracks. The lockdowns have restrict the youth and women’s ability to access health care, as movement is restricted and transport is limited during this period.
Accessing SRH services was already a challenge even before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many African youth were mostly not satisfied with these services. Among other things that they complained about is that these services are not youth-friendly, and that there is no confidentiality or privacy. Accessing healthcare for most of them has always been a challenge, due having no transport to travel and healthcare facilities being overcrowded.
African Monitor argues that the impact of COVID-19 on youth comes in forms of social and economic disruptions. The closure of school and universities as well as youth services will affect their social wellbeing, increased mental health concerns and increased youth unemployment, as well as loss of income in the informal and agricultural sectors.
The UNFPA says that in the context of COVID-19, with the disruption of schools, routine health services and community-level centres, new ways of providing information and support to adolescents and young people for sexual and reproductive health and rights need to be established.
It is estimated that with prolonged stress on the health system, a disruption of the normal delivery of sexual and reproductive health services and information to young people is expected but governments need to address this to avoid it being a burden to the already stressed and anxious young people due to COVID-19.
One of our youth leaders from Malawi, Hastings Banda said that as the citizens are forced to stay at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown, many young people are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety as some of them are forced to be stuck with their abusers all day, and as a result cannot live normal life.
Binti Salha, a youth activist advocating for Adolescent girls’ and young women’s rights to education and health in Tanzania said that the COVID-19 has made the issue of youth sexual and reproductive health even more complicated. Many young girls are stuck in small homes, where there is not privacy, especially during their menstrual periods. Access to hygienic menstrual products is also limited.
“Lack of some privacy during menstrual period, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure at home undermines the health and overall social status of women and girls during this difficult time,” she said. .
As resources are reallocated to respond to the pandemic, it remains critical that all people have access to quality healthcare. We urge Governments to take steps to guarantee the youth’s rights to quality SRH services during COVID-19. States must ensure access to SRH information and services as an essential measure.
It is clear that SRH services are needed during this pandemic. Sexuality education and other SRH talks were provided mostly in schools and churches for the youth and these platforms are currently closed. Governments and development partners should come up with alternatives ways to reach young people. Both young girls and boys should be prioritised for SRHS, as these services are not only beneficial for girls, but for boys too. If these services are overlooked to the detriment of COVID-19, we may have to deal with bigger consequences during and after the pandemic such as rape, unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and HIV and AIDs. SRH is still important even during COVID-19.