Let us advance universal access to family planning for our prosperity

Family planning is a crucial aspect of development and population, especially now that the eight-billionth global citizen is to be born today.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya is among 125 countries at the November 14-17 International Conference on Family Planning in Pattaya, Thailand. The theme for the biennial event is “Family Planning and Universal Health Coverage: Innovate. Collaborate. Accelerate.” 

Family planning is a crucial aspect of development and population, especially now that the eight-billionth global citizen is to be born today. About 16 per cent are young people aged 15-24 years, according to the UN.

The 2019 Population and Housing Census shows youth aged 18-34 make up 29 per cent of Kenya’s population. And while this offers us a variety of opportunities, including increased economic growth, cheap labour and innovation in a dynamic world, it also presents several challenges that could undermine the development agenda of our country.

These include unemployment, which stood at 6.2 per cent last year, according to the 2022 Economic Survey, lack of skills and poor health outcomes. The Kenya Health Information System (KHIS) shows that last year, young people aged 10-19 accounted for 5,300 new HIV infections as teenage pregnancies continue to fuel school dropout among girls. 

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2014 shows 18 per cent of adolescent girls aged 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child, and KHIS data shows last year, the country recorded 316,187 adolescent pregnancies (294,364 among girls aged 15-19 and 21,823 among 10-14-year-olds).

Only 10 per cent of public health facilities offer youth-friendly services, according to the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy, 2015. That means a significant proportion of youth who rely on the public sector for service provision are unable to access services that are accessible, adaptable and appropriate (National Guidelines for Provision of Youth Friendly Services in Kenya). 

DSW Kenya’s Social Accountability studies in Meru and Nakuru and the Community Scorecard in Mombasa, which were conducted to generate evidence and learning for improved sexual and reproductive health/family planning service delivery, showed that youth face other challenges in accessing services at health facilities. 

Recognised disparities

The challenges include commodity stock-outs and a lack of family planning information for certain groups, such as young men and persons with disabilities. 

In 2019, during the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD +25) in Nairobi, the government recognised disparities in achieving universal access to reproductive health information and services, including the unmet need for family planning, maternal and child mortality and HIV infections among adolescents and youth.

It, therefore, is committed to employing innovation and technology to ensure they attain the highest possible standard of health and to eliminate teenage pregnancies, new HIV infections and harmful practices.

In line with this, DSW has developed a website (www.lifeyangu.com), which provides young people aged 18-28 easy access to correct, age-appropriate and reliable information on family planning and links them to health facilities closest to them using a map provided on the website.

With studies showing that sport is a powerful mobilisation and information-sharing tool among young people, DSW uses sports to accelerate youth engagement in sexual and reproductive health and to challenge misconceptions within communities about youth sexuality.

As the world focuses on family planning as a key development issue, it is urgent that the government steps up domestic investment in family planning, integrates population issues into the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies and programmes, and eliminates all barriers that impede youth participation in decision-making, planning and implementation of development activities at all levels.

There is a need to synergise our efforts to enhance collaboration in and acceleration of empowering youth to take charge of their lives and contribute to the community. The interventions will put them at the centre and take advantage of avenues they use and influence the change they want for themselves.

Ms Samba is the Kenya country director at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung (DSW).

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