By Kasiita Mark Muganga (@Kasiitamark) A SRHR Fellow with AIIJ
Ever since the Corona Virus outbreak in March last year in Uganda, many sectors of the economy and modes of life were hard hit in all forms and one of them being the health sector of the country. The Ministry of Health, headed by Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng, had the task to ensure that all citizens with in the country were safe from contracting the deadly virus and ensure transparency and effective delivery of services but also to work hand in hand with the government to ensure the economy of the country doesn’t get hardly knocked down by the pandemic.
It’s approximately six (6) months ever since the government eased the Covid 19 Lockdown guidelines and encouraged several sectors to return to normal business as they follow the Special Operating Procedures that was exhibited by the Ministry of Health for the wellbeing of everyone and to avoid the spread of the virus. As an SRHR Fellow, this forced me to research how Covid 19 has affected some people, especially young people.
On day one of my research, I met up with Nakanda Ruth Kayongo, a Nurse from the Naguru China- Uganda Hospital – youth wing who informed me that “ever since the closure of educational institutions and implementation of the lockdown measurements greatly influenced the dropping in numbers of young people visiting the health center for medical assistance including sexual reproductive health information. Most of the young people used to come from the neighboring communities of Naguru, Banda, and Kireka”. She went ahead and narrated that when the lockdown was eased, they registered several cases related to teenage pregnancies from young people aged 14-18 years and gender-based violence with relatives, friends, and neighbors as the perpetrators of these adolescents. Nakanda requested the government to ensure the availability of medical resources and IEC material to enable the youth to get correct and relevant health information; she tasked parents to give their children the right information about Sexual Reproductive Health. Nurse Ruth concluded by requesting young people to seek medical services when not feeling well because most health centers countrywide started integrating friendly services for youth coordinated by their fellow youth who understand them more than the adults.
The following morning, I was able to meet up with a young mother known as Nazziwa Katra, 16 years a resident from Kalerwe a Kampala Shurbab, who informed me that she got pregnant last year a few days to Covid19 pandemic lockdown after being deceived by a gentleman during a promotion campaign that she once worked on. After knowing she was pregnant, she informed the man responsible for the pregnancy, and he declined it, saying he has slept with numerous young girls and haven’t conceived, thus claiming the pregnancy wasn’t his. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she expressed how her parents didn’t receive the pregnancy news at ease, “I was almost thrown out of the house after telling my mother I am pregnant” Later on, the family decided to take care of her since the man responsible was nowhere to be located. “Accessing hospital for Antenatal care was one of the hardest moments I faced during the lockdown since I had to move on foot, yet I was pregnant. This most times forced me to miss some of the appointments since I couldn’t travel on a daily by foot.” Katra responded. She advised her fellow youth to abstain from early sex; if they can’t, they should use protection methods like; use of condoms, family planning methods because if she knew and could access these services a bit easier, she wouldn’t be out of school by now. Nazziwa requested the government to reduce the charges of antenatal care that are paid by pregnant women in hospitals and to integrate the teaching of sexual reproductive health in learns institutions to enable young people to learn about their sex life as a way of making the right choices in the long run.
According to Mr. Ssempala Joakim, a community teacher from Namugongo, “many students were strongly affected by the lockdown imposed due to the outbreak of the pandemic since they used to take teachers as their parents and could openly talk to them whenever they had SRHR problems.” “We used to ask parents to spend some time with their children to help improve their relationship with these kids, but they didn’t take it seriously, and when the pandemic hit, they were shocked with the results they saw, they exhibited behaviors of their children that they didn’t know and this generated an increase in Gender-Based Violence in homes.” Joakim lamented. He also expressed the difference in cultures between parents and their children affected young people. The youth have grown in a western culture mode and tend to look at the traditional culture as primitive, which caused a lot of backlash amongst families. Most students found it peaceful to access SRH information and services from schools than homes due to openness and the need for timely rightful information; with the lockdown in place, many have failed to access these services from the nearby health centers with fears of being judged by the health professionals. Teacher Ssempala also strongly upheld the Ministry of Education and Sports’ initiative to return pregnant children to school because they need the service but cautioned them on how it has to be conducted because they are not ready to mix them with students taught the opposite. Joakim requested the government set up some facilitation spaces for children and sensitize the parents about SRH rights.
As time moved on, I met up with Doctor Ben Kibirige, who also is a seasonal health advocate; he surprised me by saying, “Covid 19 has not bought new challenges, but it has amplified the existing ones.” He defended it, saying the pandemic generally undid the civil society’s efforts, which raised rates of early pregnancies, Gender-based violence that relatives and family majorly caused. Lack of access to age-appropriate health information has contributed a lot to the unplanned pregnancies in many communicates and, as a result, to unsafe abortions. Dr. Ben advised that the government use the fall of the Covid 19 pandemic as a wake-up call and provide the right-based approach in issuing that young people access timely SRHR services. Also, he added that “As we went to the lockdown, the young people’s sexuality didn’t go to a lockdown but remained active, the government working with its development partners should increase resource allocation to the health sector and as well as urgently pass the national school health policy which has been on the shelves for over 16 years to protect the lives of young people.”
Ever since the country went on a lockdown, “the number of the youth that used to turn up to seek medical services was inferior, and the health workers couldn’t transport themselves to seek the young people in need since it’s costly.” Mr. Mubiru Sam, a youth expert from Naguru Youth Center, explained. He also expressed that uptake of family planning services, including condoms during the lockdown, was low since all youth centers where sexually active young people used to seek services had closed to follow the president’s directives to avoid the spread of the Covid 19 virus. I was shocked when he informed me that the health facility had registered a rapid increase in teenage pregnancy ages ranging from 12 years to 17. He furthermore condemned most schools for not having trained senior teachers that have sparked off an increase of sexual cases in schools. Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education and sports should pass and implement all the pending health-related policies to help the youth get the right health information they really need.