As Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate World Population Day on July 11th, 2020! Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum (UYAHF) under the Youth Engage and Take Action for SRHR project and in partnership with Right Here Right Now Platform and the National Population Council, organized a Pre-World Population Day Inter-Generational Policy Dialogue on the State of the National Adolescent Health Policy Framework and Youth Friendly Sexual Reproductive Health Services. The inter-generational dialogue was attended by 37 participants (F 13, M 24) held on 8th July 2020 at the statistics house conference hall in Kampala. This year’s World Population Day is the 27th to be observed in Uganda and will be hosted by the Lwengo district under the theme “Leveraging Uganda’s Population Dynamics for a Resilient Future amidst COVID-19”.

The overall goal of the inter-generational policy dialogue was organized to create a platform for dialogue, sharing, and reflection on progress made to secure a supportive adolescent health policy framework and delivery of quality and comprehensive youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services and information. During the dialogue, UYAHF and partners used the opportunity to officially launch a report generated from a youth-led research study on young people’s experiences, challenges, and opportunities of access to youth-friendly services in Mbale district.

Mr. Rwajema Charles informed the participants about the draft population policy that they were in the process of submitting and the issues of adolescents and reproductive health have been considered seriously. He also highlighted Tororo as a special case because it has mushrooming industries of phosphates that are taking advantage of the adolescents and young people. Communities are usually castigating girls that are pregnant but nothing is done to the perpetrators. A story of the Kabale culture was shared where young girls who got pregnant were isolated on the punishment island in Lake Bunyonyi. This clearly shows how the girls have been suffering yet nothing happens to the perpetrators. He ended by officially opening the Pre-World population day inter-generation dialogue.

Dr. Olive Sentubwe from World Health Organization gave the keynote address on how to catalyze action and progress for young people’s comprehensive access to youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services and the need to expedite the passing of the National Adolescent Health Policy and the SRHR policy. She was glad that a youth forum had been organized in 2020 under the COVID-19 era. During the COVID time, there have been more sexual violence which may lead to more pregnancies, abortions, and HIV. This is difficult because the young people who should contribute to the governance of this country will drop off at such an early stage. We would wish to see health in all sectors as we shall be informed by Dr. Dinah as this is the way to go. For us to be adapting to these policies there is an increasing moment of the protection of human rights as they need a supportive environment to address these policies. There hasn’t been an HRBA approach as it’s the foundation of the policies that are going to help us address the vulnerable needs of young people.  SRHR is most implemented within the service delivery points for us to have the HRBA. The Ministry of Health has ensured that both a gender and human rights approach governs the service provider’s way of work. If a young person needs services and they are not given in the best interest of the adolescent or young person because of your personal differences, then it’s not possible to implement these good existing policies around the Ministry of Health.

Dr. Olive Ssentubwe giving the keynote address

Teddy Nabutsale from Mbale and Caroline Nandi from Butalejja shared their health experiences regarding their access to SRH services during the lockdown. Teddy Nabutsale and Caroline Nandi informed participants that the accessibility of youth-friendly services has been challenging during the lockdown. One major challenge was the stock out of commodities.  Mbale district is lagging when it comes to youth-friendly services and corners but they are now addressing this, they had a challenge of stigma among adolescents and young people when it came to the uptake of family planning services among others.

Sister Kevin Achom from DHO’s office Mbale giving her submission during the panel discussion.

Dr. Dinah Nakiganda launched the rapid assessment of young people’s experiences, challenges, and best practices on demand, access, and utilization of contraceptive services and information reports for Mbale district. The adolescent health assessment was conducted in Mbale district targeting health service providers and adolescents’ feedback in the community. A total of 80 health facilities ranging from the regional referral hospital to local health centres were reached and assessed with 86 participants interviewed (56F, 30M). Some of the challenges in the report faced by young people in accessing services included; adolescents reporting that although they received some semblance of adolescent-friendly services at some health centers, most of the health facilities did not have structures to offer for privacy, it is often harder to see adolescents in the clinic during the day than it is in the evening hours even during holidays due to fear, adolescents would wait for long hours in the queue for services and lastly, communication challenges for PWDs with hearing impairment among others.

The recommendations from the findings included; a need for in-service training of Health Workers in adolescent health since adolescents have not been perceived as a special group with specific needs by many service providers, integration of adolescent services with SRH and ensuring revitalization and intensification of school health outreaches and programs and community-based programs that are focused on adolescents and young people, extra support and mentorship for rural and lower-level health facilities so that they enroll more adolescents and more lobbying of partners to support health facilities.