When Dr Ayo Ajayi makes his assessment of how people access family planning services in Tanzania, one thing remains on top of his mind: Young girls are not empowered to make a choice.
The girls, he says, “…can’t access contraception, can’t afford them or can’t find a contraceptive that meets their needs. And even if they do go to a clinic, they might get turned away without being told about their options.”
Dr Ajayi, the director of the Africa Team, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, believes when girls are turned away, the scenario can have devastating consequences.
He warns, during an interview with Your Health, saying, “…complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading killer of 15 – 19 year olds. We have to make sure we give these young girls access to the tools they need to protect themselves.”
To achieve this, other experts say, boys and girls need to be provided with education, information and services to protect and promote their sexual and reproductive health.
By doing so, the girls, specifically, would be more equipped to engage in healthy decisions and behaviour now and for the decades to come, says Ms Felister Bwana, a manager for sexual, reproductive and maternal new-born and child health program at the United Nation Population Fund (UNFPA).
In her remarks during a briefing on this year’s World Population Day, Ms Bwana said that currently only 40 per cent health friendly facilities in Tanzania provide family planning awareness to adolescents’ girls.
She explained that, the only way to achieve this is by government extending family planning health facilities to the community at grass root level and scaling up nationally.
“Young people aged 10 to 24 are sexually active on a higher scale and are exposed to early childbearing because this is the age where their bodies experience big changes and body emotion,” she said.
Ms Bwana also noted that for youth to reach their full potential and be more economically productive, they must be able to exercise their right to decide for themselves whether, when or how often to engage in sexual activities.
She insisted that Tanzania find a way to encourage youth stay in school, “Egypt has come up with a special program that ensures youths are kept in school, ‘keep girls in schools’, which has helped the boys and girls avoid early sexual reproductive issues and instead they concentrate on education.”
For decades, Sweden has a long and established history of sex education. It has been compulsory in schools since 1956 and pupils openly learn sexual education from school teachers, thereby making Sweden the successful country in providing sex education in schools with the objective to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health.
Ms Bwana added on this, saying that there is a need for the government of Tanzania to have practical alignment and understanding of the consequences of the population trends and their impact on the economic growth as well as quality of life in the community. This, so as to enable youth have information for proper planning and decision making.
What needs to be done?
UNFPA acting country representative Dr Hashina Begum said that achieving the world’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will depend significantly on how well the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and young people are fulfilled. Catering to their unmet need for family planning is among the most cost-effective investments overall.
“Upholding this right will lead to improvements in health and produce an array of benefits, greater investments in schooling, greater productivity, greater labour-force participation and eventually increased income, savings, investment and asset accumulation,” adds Dr Hashina.
Advance family planning (AFP) reports that many youths in the country lack access to adequate sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Many higher learning institutions lack awareness and resources to invest in and facilitate youth friendly health services.
Acting Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Otilia Gowele in a recent interview with The Citizen, was quoted saying that the government was currently making anything possible to ensure that health reproductive facilities are accessible.
“We don’t just need health services, education and infrastructure but, what we need is good health services that would help to maintain or reduce population increase,” she noted.
She explained that the government has made several achievements, by expanding access to family and raising the services budget from Sh5 billion to Sh14 billion in the 2016/17 fiscal budget.