The COVID-19 pandemic has disordered the livelihoods of adolescents and young people across Uganda’s communities in many ways. With the first COVID-19 wave in March 2020 came the adoption of containment measures, such as the closure of schools, movement restrictions, and self-isolation. As a result, the health and well-being of young people, especially adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health (AYSRH) in Uganda, took a hit.
Research suggests that the efforts aimed at managing the COVID-19 pandemic de-emphasized the provision of other essential services, such as those relating to an individual’s SRH. The selective prioritization of some of these services left individuals, particularly adolescents and young people, with no means of making informed decisions and maintaining their health.
Adolescents and young people often access health-related information in discreet ways, like:
The closure of some of these avenues and restrictions in movement meant that adolescents and young people could not utilize these services—in addition to an already restrictive and unresponsive policy and operational environment that includes:
These greatly hinder the improvement of AYSRH in Uganda.
The Makerere School of Public Health surveyed the impact of COVID-19 on access to family planning services and unintended pregnancies. It indicated that individuals failed to obtain and utilize family planning and other SRH health services due to:
For these reasons, the already alarming rate of teenage pregnancies (25%) drastically increased. Other catalytic factors (adolescents and young women engaging in transactional sex for basic needs, sexual assault, forced marriage for economic benefits to avert COVID-19-related poverty) aided the increase. Some regions, like the Acholi sub-region, which reported over 17,000 pregnancies, recorded more adolescents and young women procuring abortions. These procedures were predominantly unsafe. Additionally, a significant portion of adolescent girls and boys re-evaluated their continuation of school.
The confirmation of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a series of containment measures like those implemented during the first wave. These spell doom for already vulnerable adolescents and young people and could deter Uganda’s progress toward achieving its demographic dividend phase.
“The confirmation of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a series of containment measures…These spell doom for already vulnerable adolescents and young people.”
The Cross-Sectional Study on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Challenges Among Young People During the COVID-19 Lockdown found that 28% of young people reported that they did not have access to information and/or education concerning SRH. More than a quarter of participants (26.9%) reported that testing and treatment services of sexually transmitted infections were not available during the lockdown, while 27.2% of the respondents could not obtain contraceptive supplies.
Even as the government refines the measures for plateauing the COVID-19 pandemic curve, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has teamed up with implementing partners in the reproductive health realm in Uganda. They have adopted various innovative strategies for continued provision and access to SRH services and information. These, if scaled up across Uganda and other countries, could potentially contend with the effects of COVID-19 on AYSRH and salvage the gains registered over the years.
This innovation enabled individuals, including adolescents and young people, to access products in the comfort of their homes. Similar interventions included the use of regular commercial Boda Bodas (motorcyclists) to distribute reproductive health products from pharmacies and drug shops (chemists) to clients.
The MOH, development and implementing partners, cultural and religious leaders, parents, and community individuals recommended:
The government should integrate SRH within COVID-19 and emergency response. To mitigate poor SRH outcomes because of the pandemic lockdown, it should be recognized as an essential service. This is critical for adolescents and young people (especially low-income young women and girls) who are mainly disadvantaged.