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Tertiary institutions’ approach to students’ healthcare should be more holistic

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Mary Adeoye

A few weeks ago, I was at the Lagos State University (LASU) with a team of other young people to train select LASU students on using SMART advocacy for SRHR inclusion in school health facilities leveraging on media, dialogues, and storytelling to promote the implementation of reproductive health policy in the institution. This project named FPforCampuses is an advocacy intervention funded by Women Deliver. I must say this is one of the most interesting, challenging and lessons-filled projects I have ever worked on and I will like to share my insights and lessons learned. If your projects are designed for young people in tertiary institutions, you may find these insights very useful

Young People’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Interventions in Nigeria
When advocating for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people, it is important to consider young people as people who have human rights. Young people should always be meaningfully engaged if not we will not have interventions and policies that holistically cater to our needs.

From my experience implementing FPforCampuses and working with other young, I can say most young people do not have adequate information, life skills, and resources to live healthy and productive lives, especially when evolving from adolescence to adulthood. There are diverse interventions for infants, nursing mothers, the elderly while forgetting there is a period between infantry and adulthood.

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Our Population Structure is a huge Opportunity
According to UNFPA, in West and Central Africa, 64% of the population is under 24 years, which implies that more than half of the population in West and Central Africa are young people. This is one of the best things that can happen to a nation. If this teeming population has access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), Safe Spaces for discussing issues around pregnancy, contraception, gender-based violence and all issues that our society has succeeded in making controversial and taboos then we can start talking about harnessing the demographic dividend.

But as it stands today, CSE is absent in our tertiary institutions leading to a high rate of unmet need for contraceptives, this is directly related to high rates of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions.

Now let’s bring this home if Nigeria is serious about investing in young people’s future and attaining Universal Health Coverage then promoting young people’s access to sexual health information and services is key and very crucial. Young people must be taught to be sexually responsible and allowed to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. Sad to say, this is not our reality yet as SRHR services are often inadequate, inappropriate or unavailable for young people.

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Tertiary Institutions have Essential Roles to Play
While almost all tertiary institutions in Nigeria have health facilities for their students, most if not all completely leave out Sexual Reproductive Healthcare, because why should a school give provide the student with information on how to have safe sex, it is not their business, is it? Through our project, we engaged over 100 students across 3 tertiary institutions in Lagos who confirmed that their school clinics do not offer SRHR services.

They discussed with us how they had to depend on student doctors and patent medicine vendors for advice on SRHR issues. Almost all of us have heard stories or know a girl in Nigeria that has died from abortion. If young people are appropriately informed about birth control options they would most likely not have issues with unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortions.

Let’s take a more critical look, most universities, colleges, and polytechnics have their students in thousands. If the reproductive health needs of this population are met, then we would be a step closer to reducing the fertility rate which translates into harnessing the demographic dividend.

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My Personal Lessons and Recommendations
• Messaging and Communication are very Key: Without mincing words, talking about biases and cultural barriers, we had our share and real-life experiences. We learnt the importance of using the culturally-acceptable language for family planning in our messaging. By changing our messaging and adopting life planning and sexual reproductive health services for young people in our project proposal, we were able to record success with our engagement with the third tertiary institution we approached. KNOW your audience and use the RIGHT language.

• Don’t Boycott Authority: Tertiary institutions have a working system and bureaucracies you must follow. Don’t jump the gun, you can’t go straight to the student bodies without an endorsement from the school authorities. In our case, the key actors were the Vice-Chancellor, Dean of Student Affairs, Dean of School of Communications, School Counselors and they were pivotal to the success of our project.

• Engagement of Project Beneficiaries: When implementing SRHR interventions, it is important to actively engage the beneficiaries of the project before, during and after the implementation of the project. Do not program FOR them but WITH them.

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• Interventions need to be more all-inclusive- Interventions for young people should be holistic: Young people want to access a wide range of services that help improve their health and wellbeing. Let us begin to integrate SRHR services into existing health systems such as the HIV/AIDS Unit, FP Unit, Counselling Unit etc. Have you thought of a One-Stop-Shop that has all the fun stuff, career help, SRHR counsellor, cooking club, film review, a therapist even a Library?

• Young people are media natives – to increase demand generation for SRHR among young people consider leveraging on social media, fun activities such as edutainment, videos, plays, and storytelling.

• Leverage on Existing Platforms: work with student bodies that have solid structures to sustain your project even after it’s lifespan. For FPforCampuses, we worked with the Communication Students’ Association (COSA) and the Association of Campus Journalists (ACJ)

Mary Adeoye is a reproductive and sexual health enthusiast passionate about creating high impact interventions focused on improving the health and productivity of women, girls and young people. She is a Women Deliver Young Leader, Carrington Youth Fellow 2018.

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