These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.
By: Ajidagba Emman Babatunde (Tunde), Campus Health & Rights Initiative (Nigeria)
Every year in my home country of Nigeria, there are 6.8 million pregnancies. Approximately one in five of them are unintended. There are 3.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS and 60% of new infections occur among young people ages 15 to 24. One reason for these staggering numbers is the low level of contraceptive use among young people, who encounter socio-cultural barriers that prevent them from accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Having worked for over 10 years in the field of young adults’ sexual and reproductive health, I have seen firsthand the challenges that young people, particularly those in university settings, confront. They include engaging in risky behaviors like having transactional sex, unprotected sex, and sex with multiple partners, as well as facing the threat of sexual violence.
While increasing attention is being given to adolescents in Nigeria, little or no attention has been given to campus-based youths, a group that is increasing in number, entering university at a younger age, and dwelling in social environments that permit risky sexual health behavior and expose students to reproductive rights violations. Despite the potential that institutions of higher education in Nigeria have to provide program interventions that will cater to the health needs of this large cohort of young people, they have not. By paying more attention to clinical treatments than social dimensions of health and preventive services, like sexual and reproductive health, universities largely leave the responsibility for action to interested individuals and groups.
My project, the Campus Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion Initiative, is trying to change this. The goal of the project is to promote the uptake of comprehensive and integrated sexual and reproductive health services among young people, ages 15-24, at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University in order to reduce unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. To achieve this, we are:
- Producing materials and holding a campus health forum to educate young people on contraceptives and the risks of unprotected sex.
- Initiating a mobile phone service where sexual and reproductive health information will be sent via SMS on a weekly basis to students who subscribe. Participants will also be able to ask questions and receive instant answers. So far, 2,000 have signed up receive the messages. This is the first program of its kind in a Nigerian university.
- Providing voluntary counseling and HIV testing.
The Campus Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion Initiative seeks to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of young adults while also addressing the socio-cultural barriers that university-aged students face by providing youth-focused and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health information and services in an environment that is accessible to them.