By: Cassien Havugimana, Women Deliver 100 Young Leader from Rwanda
This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.
Young people have the right to contraceptive information and services. These rights are important not only for the youth, but also for all people in my home country of Rwanda. Studies have proven that contraception reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
When inadequate resources are allocated to contraception and contraceptive information, there are negative outcomes, especially for young people. Globally, young people account for 40 percent of all new HIV infections. Sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit. It is home to over 70 percent of young people living with HIV/AIDS and to 90% of the AIDS orphans in the world (12.1 million children). In Rwanda alone, 170,000 people are living with HIV, and 4,100 Rwandan lives are lost per year to AIDS. If young people are not provided with information, then they will not know how to properly prevent new infections when they become sexually active.
The effects of HIV are crippling. These 4,100 Rwandans who are lost every year are our future teachers, parents, doctors, social workers, and essentially, important role models. For the economy to continue to develop, we need to support young people to stay healthy, obtain an education and live free from HIV.
Misinformation and lack of contraceptive availability, especially condoms, can also lead to the possibility of STIs and unwanted pregnancies. When teens are uneducated about family planning, they may use contraception incorrectly. For example, if a young man puts a condom on backwards, or if he doesn’t use it during every sexual encounter, he may be at high risk for HIV infection or a woman may become unintentionally pregnant. Both STIs and unwanted pregnancies can have negative effects on young people’s health, their social and family relationships, and their ability to find sustainable employment, especially if an unplanned pregnancy prevents a young women from finishing school.
To deny youth the right to information and services is not only detrimental to the youth, but it is detrimental to Rwanda, its development, and the progress that Rwanda has made. Many people believe that educating young people about sex leads them to experiment with sex at an early age. However, studies show that when young people are given information, they delay their first sexual encounter. Also, comprehensive sexuality education means that they are prepared to be safe and use contraception accurately when they do choose to become sexually active. When young people are empowered with knowledge about contraception, they are capable of making informed decisions based on their own beliefs.
The best way to provide contraceptive information and services is by combining education with public distribution. Peer Education is an effective and useful way of sharing information quickly among the masses of youth in Rwanda. By teaching a group of 50 young people, they can be told to spread their message to one important person in their life. From there, the message is multiplied.
The best venue would be after school with the SHARE program through HDI. The program is a comprehensive peer education course and guide that prepares student leaders to teach their peers about sexual and reproductive health. The student leaders are trained to teach their peers, and then they hold meetings for their peers that discuss the important sexual health issues including the contraception information. The program uses games, lectures, debates and other fun activities to learn sexual health. Equipped with this information, the services will be sought after by youth and their peers and the message will be distributed not only for contraception, but for sexual health in general to eventually all of Rwanda.
The best way to provide condoms is to distribute them regularly to clinics, stores, hotels, and other locations. Another major location that is almost in every area of Rwanda is schools. If schools are able to provide condoms, then they are able to reach young people with a key intervention for keeping themselves safe. Students who go to school have friends who are unable to go to school or have finished school. Therefore those students can provide the condoms to their friends.
The more information young people have and greater access to services, the fewer new infections will occur among young people most at risk.
Cassien Havugimana is a Pharmacist with Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy. He is a graduate of the National University of Rwanda with over 5 years of experience working in the non-profit sector. He has extensive knowledge of public health; health policy, especially in HIV/AIDS; TB; Malaria; sexual and reproductive health and right; and women’s health and rights. He served as the Acting Executive Director (August, 2011- May, 2012) of Health Development Initiative-Rwanda (HDI), an organization working to promote health and development among disadvantaged communities in Rwanda, and is currently working as a Programs Manager. In addition to his work with HDI, he serves as the Chairperson of Rwanda Pharmacy Students Association and Regional Project Officer of International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) in African Continent.