SMS project to save teenager's lives


22 Jun 2015 | by
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SMS project to save teenager's lives

How a text can save a young person from making the wrong choice on matters health,According to the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey young people between the ages of 10-24 constitute the majority of new HIV infections. This means young people are having sex but worse still unprotected sex. A discussion with young people in schools in Kilifi noted that the youth, both boys and girls are more worried about getting pregnant that contracting the HIV /AIDS......

How a text can save a young person from making the wrong choice on matters health,According to the Kenya Aids Indicator Survey young people between the ages of 10-24 constitute the majority of new HIV infections. This means young people are having sex but worse still unprotected sex. A discussion with young people in schools in Kilifi noted that the youth, both boys and girls are more worried about getting pregnant that contracting the HIV /AIDS. Florence Machio toured Homabay County and stumbled on an SMS project that could make a difference in the choices that young people make about their health

The young people in Mfangano island have challenges like any other teen in this country, the only difference for them now is the fact that they now have an opportunity to get reliable information that could ideally prevent them from getting unwanted pregnancies.

The World Health Organisation Status of Youth report of 2013 also highlighted the fact that there is a big gap in the kind of programmes that would help young people meet their reproductive health needs. The top five counties with high HIV prevalence rates are Homabay, Migori, Kisii, Kisumu and Siaya all in Nyanza, they also have high teen pregnancies with Homabay county worst hit.

Where information exisits, there is lack of services and therefore young people are left in a cycle of challenges. As much as Non governmental organizations have come up with youth friendly services, where they services are placed also gives young people a challenge in accessing.

According to the Homabay  County Reproductive Health coordinator, James Otiato, sometimes the corners are manned by nurses who do not identify with the youth and they therefore find it difficult to access services that they may need. “ How will a young person go to a facility where he/she knows that she will meet the aunt, mother or neighbor?” Adding that there needs to be a deliberate effort to ensure that there are specific programmes within the health care system that seek to attend to youth needs.

Poor parenting has been blamed on why young people are making wrong choices in regards to their reproductive health and the rise in teen pregnancies in most of our rural areas. In one school in Mfangano island, 20 girls were pregnant at the same time. This prompted the ACK Development Services Nyanza, to seek an innovative way of helping young people access information and services.

Launching the ASK project which signifies, Access to Services and Knowledge, Mr Wycliffe Odera said that there is a need to bridge the gap between information and services. The ASK project seeks to recruit young people using their cellphones to register for a free sms service that gives them information on contraceptives, sex and also link them to particular health care services. On the other end of the SMS are professionals who understand the youth but also who are knowledgeable in reproductive health matters. Young people also through this project feel safe to ask questions without being judged and have a sense of security while doing so.

“ Youth are often afraid to access services because of the way they are handled. The project seeks to go further and help young people form health clubs within schools and reach out to them for campaigns on different issues on a monthly basis.Since the project was launched in April about 1,000 young people have already registered with the target being 9,000 youth by December 2015 on the island alone. This number will have captured almost all young people on Mfangano with the right information.

For the young people who do not have cell phones, the project has partnered with Safaricom to register their phones using their parents’ identification cards.According to Sylvia Kibisu of the Centre for the Study of Adolescents, most young people desire information on relationships and sexuality and what her organization has realized is that the earlier you start giving young people information, the better. “ We started a project with out of school youths and then realized that we face less challenges if we start in high schools and primary schools because at 10 years of age some children have started having sex” she added.

Kibisu also noted that for Kenya to improve it needs to train its health workers on how to handle young people and ensure that each health centre in Kenya has a youth friendly facility manned by a trained youth. “ Peer to peer learning has made a lot of difference in the high schools we work in, in different parts of the country, where young people are trained to handle questions from their fellow students” She says explaining the World of Difference project that they have implemented in schools at the Coast, Nyanza and Western parts of the country.The ASK project if scaled up doubled with training of health workers , the country will see a huge difference in the rates of teen pregnancies and new HIV infections among young people in Kenya.

 

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