These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.
By: Martin Wanzala, Allied Youth Initiative (Uganda)
Growing up on the fringes of Ugandan society, I have witnessed firsthand how HIV/AIDS, early or unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion rob my country of the lives of young men and women. The World Bank indicates that more than three quarters of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30. The health of these young people should be a national priority.
While Uganda has made significant strides in improving sexual and reproductive health (SRH) indicators over the last decade, the status of young people, reflected by those same indicators, remains very poor. For instance, Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) rates are four times higher in youth than in the general population. The unmet need for contraception is an unacceptably high 41 percent, while the adolescent pregnancy rate stands at 43 percent. HIV/AIDS is all too common, infecting 8.3 percent of young women and 6.1 percent of young men. The 2013 State of Uganda Population report reveals that of the estimated 297,000 unsafe abortions that occur every year in the country, nearly half of them are among girls and young women ages 15-24.
The need for accurate information about the benefits of contraception and improved access to a wide range of SRH services cannot be overemphasized. At the London Summit on Family Planning in July 2012, leaders from around the globe commited to provide 120 million more women in the world’s poorest countries with voluntary access to contraceptives by 2020. Uganda has been slow to attain the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and its budgetary allocations to health are still below the 15 percent committed to in the Abuja Declaration. With barely a year left before the MDG deadline, more concrete action is required of government and stakeholders to ensure that Uganda’s commitments are matched by budgetary allocations and expenditures that respond to the health needs of the population.
Through the “Better-quality Access for Youth” (BAY) project, the Allied Youth Initiative – Uganda (AYI – Uganda) is working with partner organizations across the country to increase investments in youth-focused SRH programs as a means to accelerate progress towards achieving the country’s local and international development targets by 2015. The project specifically targets a diverse group of young people ages 15-30.
Together with our partners, we hope to gather one million youth voices in support of reproductive rights through online platforms, essay competitions and street interviews. In addition, a petition will be presented to the Speaker of Parliament to advocate for increased funding for youth SRH education and services. Increased investment is not only crucial to making SRH services accessible and affordable; it is an essential ingredient for economic transformation and development. Access to accurate and reliable SRH information and care has both short- and long-term social and economic benefits because it contributes to a younger, healthier and more productive population.
The conceptual framework for the BAY project was inspired in part by the YP Foundation’s Know Your Body Know Your Rights program, as well as the socio-cultural context within which we conduct our work. Other similar youth-led projects in Uganda include Women Deliver’s It Takes Two campaign, UNFPA Uganda’s End Teenage Pregnancy, Wo-Man Foundation’s Fully and Richly Empowered about Sexual Health (FRESH) campaign, and Young Empowered and Healthy, among others.
With the need for better access to SRH services for youth increasing in the face of scarce resources, AYI – Uganda saw an opportunity to add value to similar work currently being undertaken by other organizations. The BAY project engages stakeholders to ensure that the salient but often ignored linkages for coordinated action are addressed at every level – local, national and international.
As part of the Civil Society Coalition on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, AYI – Uganda played a central role in ensuring that young people’s issues and concerns were visibly reflected within the Civil Society Policy Statement that was presented to the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga in commemoration of the Global Week of Action (GWA) on maternal and child survival. Among other demands, the statement included a recommendation to “increase the national budget allocation to the health sector for Primary Health Care non-wage (PHC- NW) funds by 41.5 billion in 2014/15, to reinforce disease prevention among families and communities.” This was an important step in our mission to ensure that young people in Uganda and around the world can access the healthcare they deserve.