Sexual and Reproductive Health: An Outlier During a Pandemic

Access to sexual and reproductive health has always been a challenge for youths who fear the stigma associated with seeking such services. Limited access to health due to COVID-19 has worsened the crisis.

Esigodini— A mobile truck playing loud music meanders its way into Sibomvu shopping centre in Esigodini, and a huge crowd immediately gathers, attracted by the scene. Popular youthful musicians from the province take to the stage singing songs raising awareness on sexual reproductive health issues (SRHR).

However, a group of youths seems uninterested, keeping a distance from the venue, something not strange for social workers.

The stigma and harmful gender norms associated with sexual and reproductive health care deeply entrenched, leaving many young people struggling to navigate their health. Young people fear being judged, and a stigma-free environment is far from taking shape.

“Health facilities are accessible, though there are some who get to travel long distances,” says Sandiso Sibanda from Young Women Alliance, an independent civic group implementing the project in partnership with the Community Youth Development Trust (CYDT).

CYDT recently conducted sexual reproductive health awareness roadshows in the district.

“However, the services provided are not satisfactory as young people fear being judged. They do not trust how privacy and confidentiality issues are upheld in terms of SRHR services.”

Simultaneously, access to SRHR services is hindered by the long distances that youth have to travel to the nearest health centres. In areas such as Zhilo and Shale, people have to travel more than 15km to the nearest Sibomvu Clinic.With lower access to information and quality services, especially for adolescents and youth, rural areas have lower modern contraceptives and higher rates of child marriage.

Sakhile Hadebe, aged 24 of Zhilo, says even when information is available, her peers still encounter obstacles, “youth-friendly services are not widely available,” she says.

Hadede says she and her peers end up resorting to online platforms for information but says, “the information young people can find themselves can be biased, inaccurate and incomplete.”

“You can’t understand what is true, what not to trust and how to double-check it.”

The YWA representative says their SRHR awareness roadshows were informed by the realisation that “SRHR services are not given a priority in local clinics.”

“SRHR is not seen as an emergency requiring attention from health workers; hence, for example, you find that young people do not know how to use female condoms, yet health workers can fill that gap by providing information,” she says.

“Also, young people expressed concern over lack of communication between parents and children on SRHR issues, yet the home should be a safe place to have such discussions.”

Former legislator Norman Mpofu says rural people face double-pronged health problems.

“These hospitals are failing to provide a service so much that citizens realise that seeking help from them is the worst of time. The infrastructure has collapsed, medicines and related services are not available, and the staffs are hostile,” says Mpofu.

Mpofu believes that by struggling to access decent services from public health facilities, some opt for the private sector or traditional healers and prophets.

“One can safely say that for most Zimbabweans, there is nowhere they can get health services owing to a toxic combination of poorly equipped hospitals manned by underpaid workers, creating a hostile environment which is unattractive to those seeking attention.”

The Community Working Group on Health argues COVID-19 has worsened the already existing inequalities to accessing healthcare services, emphasising the need for an escape plan that favours vulnerable societal groups.

“The COVID–19 pandemic has abruptly undercut health gains made over many years, making it less likely to achieve sustainable development goal three on the health and well-being of all by 2030,” CWGH Executive Director Itai Rusike said.

“The disease has stifled progress towards universal healthcare coverage. Critically, the condition has had a knock-on effect on livelihoods, pushed more people into poverty, food insecurity, amplified gender, social and health inequalities hence increasing communities’ vulnerability.”

According to Rusike, the impact COVID-19 has had will take years to address.

“The vulnerable communities when affected by COVID are less likely to access quality care and are more likely to experience adverse consequences of COVID–19 contained measures such as lockdowns.”

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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