Implementing youth-friendly health services in Malawi

Barwani recently joined young people and youth sexual and reproductive health (SRH) advocates from around the world as a discussant for the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) online forum, Following through on the 2013 ICFP: Youth, SRHR and policy change. The forum, from February 4–6, gave participants an opportunity to discuss the importance of policy and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Click here to learn more.

Implementing youth-friendly health services in Malawi
Why are you interested in youth sexual and reproductive health?

Young people in Malawi are having sex at young ages, resulting in a high number of adolescent pregnancies. However, the majority of the youth do not understand what sex and sexuality are. Past evidence has shown that offering appropriate information on youth sexual and reproductive health (YSRH) to youth encourages healthy sexual behaviors that allow youth to decide if and when to have children.

For example, by using long-acting, reversible contraception, young people can delay having children, allowing them to complete their education and/or gain employment. Being well informed about their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) helps young people better interact with and become engaged in their immediate community and promotes rights, choices, and gender equality.

It’s more than a health issue: it is linked with environment/climate change, access to social services, education, sustainable income and economy. I want to walk down the streets and not see young girls holding on to their little babies. I have a role to play to ensure that girls’ childhoods are protected and that parenthood is left for adults.

Why/how are you involved in making a difference (advocacy, policy, program level) in youth SRHR issues?

I support the implementation and monitoring of the youth-friendly health services (YFHS) program through the Ministry of Health — Reproductive Health Directorate, ensuring that districts, implementing partners and youth organizations are adhering to the standards of YFHS, the SRHR policy and the reproductive health (RH) strategy and roadmap.

Currently, I am supporting the implementation of the YFHS program evaluation. The results will feed into a strategy for adolescent SRHR. As a member of the technical working group on safe motherhood, reproductive health, commodity, and security, I ensure that adolescent SRH issues are prioritized and I support and co-organize the YFHS technical working group.

I also work with district stakeholders to raise awareness of family planning, especially long-acting and permanent methods, and the prioritization of family planning in their district implementation plans. I work to ensure that components of youth SRHR are incorporated within programs that are designed to create champions of family planning among health workers who are responsible for offering a full range of family planning resources to adolescents in need.

I facilitated and supported the discussions for the establishment of the African Youth and Adolescents Network on Population and Development Malawi Chapter and recently supported the advocacy efforts of various campaigns by conducting community and regional dialogues with the help of social media outlets. These campaigns were centered upon the legal age of marriage, adolescent pregnancy, girls’ rights, access to reproductive health services beyond condoms, choice and clients (adolescents), CONDOMIZE Malawi campaign, effective youth-friendly health services and sex. Through a partnership with JSI Malawi, I contributed to the strengthening/reviewing of the youth health section for the revised youth policy and initiated and championed a condom commodity security program for youth.

Why do you feel policy is important to youth SRHR?

Effective policy offers a framework, a guide of operation for attaining inclusive, sustainable, client-oriented, acceptable, accessible adolescent and youth SRHR. It ensures that quality is not compromised when the services are offered and it is an avenue for prioritizing and supporting youth SRHR with youth themselves, government, donors and other stakeholders. It allows for sector-wide collaboration as it highlights the interdependency and benefits of youth SRHR programs. Youth inclusiveness and decision-making power derived from their own experiences helps build a strong foundation for youth leaders to advocate for their rights and fulfill their responsibilities with regard to their reproductive health.

How can young people get involved and continue momentum from ICFP?

By taking a stand. Full access and full choice to reproductive health services will not happen on its own. We need to:

  • Implement youth SRHR programs and campaigns for comprehensive information and services at community, national, and regional levels through youth organizations, networks, and regional collaborations.
  • Advocate and champion for the prioritization of youth SRHR/FP at grassroots levels and in local development plans as these feed into the national agendas.
  • Join UNFPA and fellow youth leaders in advocating for the inclusion of a youth goal in the post-2015 agenda with a component of full access and full choice for youth SRHR and FP.
  • Conduct community dialogue to raise awareness on the importance of HIV and SRHR response to push them as top priority issues for young people in the post-2015 framework (#ACT2015).
  • Strengthen the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning by sharing their experiences and working toward a common goal for youth SRHR/FP.

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