Medical experts at a recent media roundtable in Ogun State, were united in their position that the stage of adolescence is the most neglected period of life. This societal and family abandonment during this critical period, has contributed significantly to deny the adolescent girls, 10 to 19 years, the reproductive health (RH) care and services they need to navigate life and ultimately shape them to become who they aspire to be.
As part of efforts to institute a positive change in them, especially to mitigate the severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the girls, the Ogun State Government said it would prioritise the provision of reproductive health (RH) services for adolescent girls.
This measure, according to the government, would pave the way for improved wellbeing and ensure their rapid development like their male counterparts in the society. To this end, the Ogun State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Tomi Cooker speaking at the roundtable, said the state has partnered with the Society For Family Health (SFH) to implement specific RH programmes for the benefit of the young ones. The roundtable was tagged ‘Meeting Adolescents And Young People’s Reproductive Health Needs During COVID-19 Outbreak’.
Highlighting why this stage was critical in their development, the Ogun State Reproductive Health Coordinator, Dr. Isreal Orire said that the critical period when society neglects adolescents was the time the central characteristics of their reproductive capacity were developed. “At this stage, the adolescents have begun to take control of their lives and we need to understand the nature of changes taking place in them.” According to Orire, at this stage they want to do things by themselves, not wanting to listen to mothers, guardians or parents, among others. To ensure that they get the needed RH care and services needed to chart the course for their healthy development, Orire said basic RH information must be made available to them to help them build their capacity and skills.
The information includes issues around marriage such as pre-marital awareness, preparation for parenthood, appropriate antenatal care and guidance in child rearing, guide on family planning and appropriate use of contraceptives, and education awareness on attaining good medical care for general wellbeing. This information becomes necessary against the background of data showing lifestyle of adolescents and young people. According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2018, 57 per cent of women begin sexual activity before the age of 18 years, 19 per cent of women between ages 15-19 are already pregnant or mothers and 40 per cent of women aged 15-19 die during childbirth.
Similarly, available data shows that the average age for marriage for the girl child, especially in poor households is 16 years and 44 per cent of teenage women with no education have begun childbearing. In his presentation titled ‘Meeting Adolescents And Young People’s Reproductive Health Needs During COVID-19 Outbreak’ Orire disclosed that the coronavirus pandemic contributed significantly in widening the problems experienced by adolescent girls in Ogun State.
For instance, he said based on the reluctance of adolescents to visit hospitals for care because of the fear of contracting COVID-19, there was a sharp decrease in the uptake of family during that period. Similarly, he stated that Ogun State, during the lockdown occasioned by the pandemic, had its fair share in reduced source of income to individuals resulting in increased gender based violence (GBV), rape and teenage pregnancy.
He noted that during that lockdown, there were no more office/school/business for es- Soybeans are good source of protein PHOTO: The Economic Times cape by persons who are either exposed to or already victims of sexual molestation/ violence/rape, and also due to idleness. Based on these challenges, he said the Ogun State Primary Health Care (PHC) Board had to partner with the Society For Family Health (SFH)/A360 Project to carry out community sensitisation in every ward of Abeokuta South and Ado Odo Ota local government areas (LGA) on COVID-19 prevention, and the need to visit health facilities for adolescent sexual reproductive health (ASRH) and immunisation services.
Explaining the objective of the SFH)/ A360 Project, Eunice Ogunkelu said the aim of the project was to break barriers of using modern contraceptives so as to reduce unintended pregnancies, to sustain access to improved sexual reproductive health (SRH) information for adolescent girls beyond this project.
“This is the period to learn to manage emotions and relationships,” she added. Ogunkelu said part of the problems the SFH)/A360 project would address is to create basic relevant information to dispel myths and misinformation about family planning and other healthy living strategies. According to her, the services of SFH)/ A360 Project cut across youths, adults, public health importance, among others. Speaking further, she said the project generates information that empowers the young generation, connects girls to SRH at relevant moments and foster trusted support that would help them achieve their aspirations.
“It teaches them how to uptake contraceptives if need be, educates them about trade and skills for life to enable them to grow conveniently . She said, “Although, a lot of girls have questions on RH they want to ask their parents, sadly, many parents and guardians are constrained to provide such information because of cultural and religious barriers.”
However, she said the SFH)/A360 Project is doing a lot of outreaches and needed advocacy in educating the girls. On her part, Bukola Ogunsemi, a young designer and beneficiary of SFH)/A360 Project, presented testimonials of the successes she recorded after being exposed to several programmes of SFH)/A360 Project. Adolescent 360 is a four-year project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Children Investment Foundation Fund (CIFF). The project is led and implemented by Population Services International (PSI) and Society for Family Health in Nigeria.