One youth’s quest to improve reproductive health in Nigeria

A version of this post originally appeared on Interagency Youth Working Group's Blog, "Half the World". Reposted with permission.

A Q&A with Isaiah Owolabi, project director and co-founder of HACEY’s Health Initiative, co-founder and executive chair of the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning

Isaiah is joining 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, will give participants an opportunity to discuss the importance of policy and young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Click here to participate or learn more.

One youth’s quest to improve reproductive health in Nigeria
Why are you interested in youth sexual and reproductive health?

The issues of sexual and reproductive health are of special significance to everyone, but most especially young people. Young people have a huge price to pay if we make the wrong decisions regarding our SRH. A majority of new HIV infections reported are among young people. When young people are misinformed about SRH issues, the negative impact is not only felt by them, but it affects the community and also future generations. Young people are the link between the past and the future. In order to ensure successful and healthy transitions for youth into adulthood we must address the SRH of young people as not just a health challenge but a development challenge.

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

As the project director of HACEY’s Health Initiative in Nigeria, I supervise the organization’s work in capacity building, advocacy, research, and education. We build the capacity of our volunteers and trainers to educate young people in and out of school on how to prevent HIV, as well as refer them for treatment. My book entitled “HIV/AIDS — The Future of the Infected and Affected” has been used to educate more than 1,000 young people on HIV and AIDS in Nigeria.

We use social media, dialogue meetings, radio, and television programs to engage policy makers, government agencies and journalists to increase their attention on youth SRH issues, especially those related to provision of youth-friendly SRH services.

I am also involved in three other initiatives in Nigeria that promote SRH services for young people: Girls Sexual Health Promotion Program (trains in and out of school girls to be sexual health promoters); Slum Alive Program (provides SRH services for young people living in marginalized communities); and the Contraceptive Promotion and Access Program (improves young people’s access to contraceptives and provides education on how to use them).

Why do you feel policy is important to youth SRHR?

Effective policies ensure that young people have access to quality SRHR service whenever and wherever they want it. So many community development SRHR interventions could be easily implemented if we had government policies supporting the work of the implementer. Policy also represents the highest level where change occurs. To improve young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, I strongly believe that there must be change at the policy level. Young people should be actively included and engaged during the development and implementation process of policy making. This is the only way we can be sure that these policies will reflect what young people want.

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

During ICFP 2013, I worked with other young people to create the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning (IYAFP). Through this alliance we hope to engage young people to take action locally and also engage policy makers to ensure that young people have access to family planning services. We invite young people all over the world to work together with IYAFP at the country level to ensure that we change the future of family planning.

Young people should continue to follow and contribute to family planning debates at both the national and international level and also make sure their voice is heard using media, stakeholder meetings, press releases, and by volunteering or partnering with nongovernmental organizations working in their country.

I strongly believe that the energy, innovation, passion and creativity of young people are the greatest resources we have to achieve the FP2020 goals.

I am excited to join fellow young people and youth SRH advocates from around the world as a discussant for the IYWG online forum, Following through on the 2013 ICFP: Youth, SRHR and Policy Change. I hope you will join me. Check it out here!

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