In a concerted effort to prioritize the health and well-being of adolescents and young people, the Ministry of Health, with the support of the Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum(UYAHF) through the Power to Youth (PTY) Programme, launched an impactful Adolescent Health (ADH) Awareness Campaign in Isingiro district from 29th April through to 3rd May 2024 with the resounding theme “Health Habits, Healthy Life,” to foster accountability and multisectoral responsiveness to key health issues among young people. 

The ADH Awareness Campaign is a three-year nationwide sensitization initiative by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) that is intended to provide age-appropriate health information and career guidance, as well as advocate for behavioral change targeting adolescents and young people in and out of school. The campaign aims to bridge the information gap and reduce the widely spread social problem of unhealthy lifestyles and irresponsible practices influencing the lives of most adolescents and young people in and out of school.

It was first piloted in 2023 in some selected schools in Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso districts. In Isingiro district, the one-week campaign was spearheaded by the consortium of the Power to Youth program in Uganda, and it opened the way for nationwide implementation.

“As the Power to Youth program, we are thrilled to spearhead the rollout exercise of the Adolescent Health Awareness Campaign by MOH in Isingiro district,” said Norah Nakyegera, the UYAHF Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.

In Isingiro District, the campaign commenced on April 29th with an inception meeting that gathered the district leadership led by the Assistant District Health Officer (DHO) in charge of Maternal Child Health, religious and cultural leaders, health care providers, teachers, head teachers, advocates, development partners, students, and parents to introduce the campaign, seek their full support for its effective implementation, and share a sustainability plan. While officially opening the meeting, the ADHO-Maternal and Child Health, Isingiro district, Mrs. Kyomugisha Eveline, urged the different stakeholders to embrace the ADH awareness campaign and support the district and, above all, the Ministry of Health to achieve the national adolescent health indicators.

Agnes Sebbowa, the Senior Technical Officer, Adolescent and School Health at the MOH, noted that the campaign is a model that stands to improve the provision of age-appropriate health information and services to young people. “Through this campaign, we are advocating for healthy habits among adolescents through sharing health promotional materials alongside structured engagements like school and community outreaches, community sessions, and health facility adolescent-specific friendly health services,” she revealed.

While sharing young people’s experience on accessibility to health care services in community health facilities, Namara Angel, a PTY youth advocate for Nyakitunda Sub-County Isingiro district, observed that “there is a lot of stigma from health workers towards young people seeking services in our local health facilities, limiting young people’s ability to freely visit health facilities.

She expressed confidence that if the ADH campaign is implemented according to the presented roadmap, it will go a long way towards enhancing young people’s access to health services and information.

Following the meeting, the campaign was then launched at Isingiro Senior Secondary School with a highly engaging event and session with the students. The engagement took the education approach, which had the young people freely open up about their health and lifestyle while the experts from the MOH led sessions on SGBV accessibility to health services and positive health habits.

On day 2 of the campaign, the team visited and held another productive session with students at Nakivale Secondary School within Nakivale Settlement, reinforcing the importance of healthy behaviors and fostering a supportive environment. This is a unique school, with almost 70% of its population comprised of refugee students from various nationalities, including Somalis, Burundians, South Sudanese, and Rwandese.

The Ministry of Health team, led by Dr. Agnes Sebbowa and Dr. Allan Kasozi, led separate sessions on health habits and healthy lifestyles where students shared unique challenges that they are faced with, especially girls, during their holidays, in addition to asking various questions around sex, HIV, SGBV, and convenient access to health services, among others which were answered by the team.

“Even though we are excited about going for the holidays, we girls face a lot of challenges while at home. Old men try to harass us and request sex; sometimes if you refuse, they try to lure you with money, and to the worst, they even try to rape you,” said Gakiza Confiance, a senior five student.

The team, with support from Reproductive Health Uganda Clinic and Kabuyanda Health Centre III, set base at Kabuyanda Market and provided free health services, including STI/STD testing, HIV testing and counseling, family planning services, SGBV screening, and free condom distribution, to hundreds of people, including adolescents, through a well-structured community outreach as part of the campaign.

On day 3 of the campaign, the team engaged the community through community outreaches in several communities within Kabuyanda Sub-County and Nyakitunda Sub-County, the areas with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the district. The outreaches were highly supported by community leaders and embraced by parents. “It is our role as parents and guardians to provide a guiding hand to these young people on the right paths they are to choose in order to shape their future. Let us create open relationships with our children so that they can come to us in case of any issues regarding their health.” Chairman Nyakitunda HC III advised

As part of the campaign, the team held a compelling radio talk show live on Vision Radio 89.1 FM, where the panelists, including a team from the Ministry of Health, a power to youth advocate, the district inspector of schools, and the ADHO-MCH, shared an insight into the campaign week and how the district intends to ensure its sustainability and scaling to all the sub-counties. The panelists discussed various aspects of adolescent health, addressing common misconceptions about adolescent health service accessibility. They unanimously called upon the people in the community to take up the initiative to support young people in and out of school to live a healthy lifestyle. There has been more effort put into adolescent health compared to other years. Things were not like this before, thanks to the Ministry of Health. That’s why community engagement is important to bridge these gaps in health service delivery and access among young people,” said Dr. Allan Kasoozi, MOH, while on Vision Radio.

Throughout the week, health centers like Kabuyanda Health Centre III, Maboona Health Centre III, and Nyakitunda Health Centre III served as crucial hubs for providing essential services. From free HIV testing to cervical cancer screening, family planning, and access to contraceptives, these initiatives ensured that young people had access to comprehensive free healthcare services throughout the week, and over 1000 people, including 35 people living with disabilities, were reached.

This has been a transformative week for the people of Isingiro district because it has not only opened eyes to the community on the issues that affect young people, they have also learned about solutions to avoid them. We shall not stop here as health workers; we pledge to continue creating a welcoming environment to enable young people to receive SRH services at these health centers,” said Dr. Alex.

Beyond the activities outlined, the campaign fostered a sense of community ownership and empowerment. By engaging stakeholders at every level, from students to community leaders, it laid the foundation for sustained advocacy and action in adolescent health.