Though discussions around reproductive health services should be open to all, adolescent boys and girls experience often don’t get to take part in them, with their parents and guardians making most decisions about health on their behalf. Kenya’s health department is implementing various interventions focusing on young people. Through The Challenge Initiative’s (TCI) program, Mombasa County received funding to implement high-impact interventions that address some of the challenges young people experience in accessing contraception and other sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
Celina Githinji, adolescent and youth coordinator for Mombasa County, Kenya, knows all too well the emotional and psychological challenges faced by young boys and girls who come to her for support.
As the officer responsible for adolescent and youth reproductive health and gender-based violence prevention, Githinji is intimately involved in the county’s response to matters affecting their well-being.
“I like supporting girls and boys and contributing to the implementation of initiatives that will help address the challenges they go through,” she says.
While discussions around reproductive health services are theoretically open to all, adolescent boys and girls experience bias, with their parents and guardians making most decisions about health on their behalf.
Each year in Mombasa County, one-third of pregnancies are not planned, and one-third of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Data from the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey shows that almost one out of five girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are reported to be pregnant or have a child already. This trend has been fairly consistent for more than two decades, with little change in prevalence between 1993 and 2014.
The issue has gained recognition in the county and the health department is implementing various interventions focusing on young people. Through The Challenge Initiative’s (TCI) program, Mombasa County received funding to implement high-impact interventions that address some of the challenges young people experience in accessing contraceptive services.
One of the interventions implemented was intergenerational dialogues to bring about a positive change of attitudes regarding sexual reproductive health services for young people.
“When we started these dialogues, we got an opportunity to discuss reproductive health matters openly. The first session was so successful, and I thought to myself, Why not make this like my favorite TV series, which features weekly without fail?” shares Githinji.
The dialogues are aimed at strengthening conversation among people across age groups, so the whole community can engage in a collective process of change. The intergenerational dialogue aims to bridge the gap between different community members and empowers people to discuss issues openly.
“The first session was so successful, and I thought to myself, why not make this like my favorite TV series, which features weekly without fail?”
“I structured my community dialogue series idea and shared it with the health management team and got the approval for it,” shares Githinji. She has been conducting dialogues and sharing reproductive health information integrated with gender equality practices with key community stakeholders.
Through TCI’s Sisi Kwa Sisi coaching model, Githinji has coached 10 of her peers, who currently support her work. She wants to reach as many community stakeholders as possible.
“Dialogue sessions have enabled Mombasa County to build relations in the communities and across generations, reaching gatekeepers—such as cultural, religious, and local leaders—who help to develop action plans to address social and cultural norms that may hinder young people’s access to reproductive health services,” says Githinji.
In the dialogues, community members discuss issues, such as:
In doing so, the county contributes to creating a supportive environment for adolescents and youths to access reproductive health services and information.
“We have also added mentorship and coaching to advocacy and communication activities, demystifying misconceptions and myths in reproductive health for the youth champions and their peers,” says Mwanakarama Athman, Mombasa County’s reproductive health coordinator.
Together with other health care providers, Githinji also explored new ways of reaching adolescents and young people, including through mobile phones. Many adolescents are now using WhatsApp channels to share information about sexual and reproductive health and the challenges youths face.
Mombasa County has availed a toll-free number and mobile SMS code that youths use to get information, counseling, and answers to their reproductive health questions. “The youth champions engage in these discussions and tackle myths and misconceptions in reproductive health among other topical subjects for the young people,” said Athman.
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