Ensuring Access to Youth Friendly Services is Investing for Now and for the Future

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s ‘The power of 1.8 Billion; Adolescents, Youth and the Transformation of the Future’, our world is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24. This youth population is growing fastest in the poorest nations. In our country Kenya, the situation is not any different as young people occupy over 36% of the total population.

This is a significant percentage who if well taken care of puts our nation at the dawn of reaping demographic dividends from an empowered population driving key sectors of the economy. The converse is also true. A disempowered and disenfranchised youth population will not only be an economic burden to the nation’s coffers, but also a major risk in the very existence of civility and progress.

However, young people face significant challenges while growing up, even more than previous generations of adolescents did.

They are not only at risk of communicable diseases but they also face hitherto older people’s challenges in lifestyle and non-communicable diseases. These double burden of diseases has been ensured by lack of reproductive health knowledge and information, malnutrition, general health problems, menstrual problems, female genital cutting, early and unprotected sex, early forced marriages, sexually transmitted infections, abortions, drugs and substance abuse, accidents and violence, sexual abuse among others.

But these adolescents and young people are not a homogenous group, there are still various sections and classes. For example without formal education, those from children headed households, those displaced, those living with disabilities, those married, those abusing drugs, those in conflict prone areas, those in child labour among others are more vulnerable than others.

According to the World Health Organization, there is evidence that many young people regard health services as irrelevant to their needs and distrust them. They avoid such services altogether, or seek help from them only when they are desperate. They require services that are in the right place, at the right time, at the right price (free where necessary) and delivered in the right style to be acceptable by them. These services need to meet the minimum standards set.

Kenya has a favourable policy and legal environment on youth friendly services including the new National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy and the ongoing revision of the National Guidelines for Provision of Youth Friendly Services.
However, nationally, only one out of ten of public health facilities provide youth friendly services, over a decade after the guidelines and the original policy were first developed.

In the context of Kenya’s devolved system of governance, county governments have a huge role to play in accelerating realization of better health outcomes and bridging the enormous gaps in health indicators between different regions.
Counties need to invest in youth friendly services not just to reduce death and diseases now, to reduce burden of disease later in life and to protect capital but also as a fundamental human right.

The government must Domesticate and fully implement international, national and county policies on adolescent and reproductive health including the revised National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy and the National Guidelines on provision of Youth Friendly Services.

These can be achieved through allocating sufficient resources in health budget for youth friendly services, Increasing the percentage of primary care facilities offering comprehensive youth friendly services, Partnering with government and non-state actors on advocacy and provision of youth friendly services, Deliberately factoring in marginalized and vulnerable young people in programming for youth friendly services, Provide linkages and referrals between the school model, health center model and youth based model among others.

The recently released Kenya Youth Survey Report 2016 which covered various thematic concerns including aspirations, values, challenges affecting youths in Kenya provide but yet another timely reminder of the dire situation of young people in the country and serves as an important wake up call for meaningful youth participation in policy processes, access to universal education opportunities, health services and rethinking our values as a nation.

For Kenya to realize her vision of being a middle-income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030 and contribute to regional aspirations like Agenda 2063 and the global sustainable development goals, young people must be at the center of it all.

We may be well into 2016, but the best New Year’s gift the government can give to her young people is to listen to them and prioritize them; not just for votes, but as partners in this journey.

ROBERT ASEDA is the Partnerships and Policy Officer at the Network for Adolescents and Youth of Africa-Kenya Chapter, a youth led advocacy network that does sexual and reproductive health and rights advocacy. He has a BSc. Population Health from Kenyatta University. He has undergone training on budget advocacy, policy advocacy and media advocacy by Planned Parenthood Global and Choice for Youth and Sexuality of the Netherlands. He has been involved in the ICPD process and is currently the chairman of the National Youth Consortium on the POST2015 Development Agenda comprising of young people from organizations working in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights in Kenya. He is also a radio personality, a creative blogger, poet and a regular contributor to local dailies in Kenya. Connect with him on twitter: @Varaq