Youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services in Nigeria
The largest generation of young people (10-24 years) the world had ever known, is now approaching reproductive years. Despite the growing number of this population group, there are limited health facilities focused specifically on addressing adolescent and young people’s sexual and reproductive health needs. Young people and adolescents need to be able to make informed decisions and have access to sexual and reproductive health education, information and services. This is paramount, given that the age of sexual debut in Nigeria is 15 years; adolescent and young people need to have access to correct and adequate sexual and reproductive health education and services.
Youth involvement should go beyond tokenism which can be done by offering young people roles and responsibilities to be at the forefront and lend their voices, as youth themselves are better positioned to discern the barriers and challenges they face in seeking sexual and reproductive health services, and to offer creative solutions and innovations, thus making the program more likely to succeed. Health services geared towards adolescents and young people, known as “youth-friendly clinics” have shown promise to address their developmental health needs of this growing population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), youth-friendly services should be equitable, accessible, acceptable, appropriate and effective.
In regards to sexual and reproductive health needs, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services are services or clinics that deliver a comprehensive range of sexual and reproductive health services in ways that are responsive to the specific needs, vulnerabilities and desires of young people. Young people face multiple barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services. For instance, in situations where they are able to access services, they may feel embarrassed, or have judgmental concerns from the health providers and stigmatization on sexual matters. According to the WHO, sexual and reproductive health services for young people should work towards achieving at least one of the following goals: (1) provision of supportive environment, (2) improvement of SRH knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors, and (3) increase uptake of health services and other related services.
In Nigeria, there are current guidelines that recommend provision of sexual and reproductive health services for young people ages 14 and above. This aims at reducing some of the barriers with seeking sexual and reproductive health services among young people. While we have made some progress, there is still room for improvement in the area of implementing these guidelines and ensuring that health facilities are structured to adolescents and are youth-friendly. We employ health facilities to seek the voice of the youth and their opinion in re-structuring or creating health facilities to be youth-friendly. These would enhance uptake of health services, beyond sexual and reproductive health services among young people. One step towards achieving this would be to understand the existing health services for young people, and restructuring to meet the criteria for youth-friendly health services as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Setting the stage for youth engagement, 4 youth by Youth uses crowdsourcing contests and entrepreneurship training to develop youth-led innovative HIV self-testing services that would potentially reach young Nigerians with HIV who are yet to test, while providing youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
Chisom Obiezu-Umeh is currently the Project Coordinator for the 4 Youth by Youth project. She obtained her Masters in Public Health from New York University, College of Global Public Health. Her line of research combines behavioural and implementation science research with a human-centered design approach to create sustainable health solutions for young people in Nigeria