My days as an intern nurse at the Mbale Referral hospital in Eastern Uganda provided me with real life experiences of what fellow young people go through to access sexual reproductive health and rights services. Just like in my home Kenya, the situation here was not different. Young people’s uptake for sexual reproductive health and rights services including family planning and contraceptives was still very low. Each day, I would count and it would take more than hour interval before you see a young person walking into the facility. Could this mean that these young people had no need for such services? I knew in my mind that something stood between them and their need to access SRHR services.
The hospital was a busy place. It was a referral facility but still the community around there would still come to access primary health care. I was to do my clinical rotation for one year to attain a license to practice as a nurse. I looked forward to that day when I would be a certified nurse. It has always been my child hood passion and I was close to the dream. Deep inside, I knew the challenges that my friends go through, I knew the obstacles that stand on their way and accessing SRHR services including family planning and contraceptives.
“If one day, I’ll be a nurse- a practicing nurse, then I would make a difference” I could speak within myself each day.
Young people around Mbale would then get the opportunity to access youth friendly services at our facility. This is after the Ugandan Ministry of health in collaboration with USAID/SUSTAIN (Strengthening Ugandans System for treating AIDS Nationally) trained health care workers in six regional referral hospitals from various departments to offer adolescent health friendly services. I was lucky to be part of the team that was trained at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital. This training was my opportunity to make the difference that I had always yearned for. The desire to offer youth friendly services to fellow young people burnt within me. I was ready and psyched to work alongside my other colleagues.
The facility had limited space for services like family planning, V.C.T, S.T.I diagnosis and treatment. Our team at Mbale recognized that young people needed a separate space- away from the busy operations at the hospital. A separate space for youth friendly services was allocated within the palliative care unit. Within the space a nice waiting area lobby was constructed with recreational facilities. Sensitization was done targeting young people. One message was clear, they don’t have to come to the youth friendly center only when they are ill. This was their space, they should come there freely and routinely. No sooner had the operations start to function well than a huge crowd of young people could fill the room. I would stand a side at times and watch them. Here they were happy and settled. Here they were at home.
Some hours were set aside just for the youths. We permitted the adolescents and youths to walk- in for services without an appointment. We asked the Family planning clinic to allocate the morning hours twice a week for the adolescents and youths to receive the services. The atmosphere was welcoming, youthful and culturally appropriate for all the youths using the services. We provided appropriate information meeting the youth’s needs and concerns, informed them about the services available and assured confidentiality. Services offered were on health education, provision of family planning, V.C.T, S.T.I treatment, career guidance, life skills talk, involvement in counseling and group participation.
Now I am a youth advocate with Center for the Study of Adolescence. I have been trained to effectively communicate with policy makers at the County level on the demographic dividend. I no longer practice nursing, I use my time for community development projects targeting young people in Mombasa County. I have always been passionate about sexual reproductive health rights and my motivation is fueled by the need to help adolescents/youth easily access the youth friendly services. I believe no youth should be denied access to SRH services because it is in their right. As an advocate, I will engage in advocacy activities that focus to have the County government in Mombasa open more youth friendly centers in their health facilities.
-Agnes, CSA Youth & DD advocate