Civil society organisations are intensifying efforts to engage relevant authorities on allowing adolescents to access reproductive health services.
BY VANESSA GONYE/PRECIOUS CHIDA
Speaking at a workshop in Harare on Thursday last week, Coalition to Build Momentum, Power, Activism, Strategy and Solidarity project co-ordinator Diana Mailosi said pregnancies and new HIV infections among adolescents are being encountered as a result of age restrictions on access to public health facilities.
“When we look at access to health services for young people they are sometimes affected by the fact that they are considered underage to be able to access some of the services that they do need, we have seen a lot of unplanned pregnancies among girls and they end up dropping out of school and these things can be avoided if people are able to walk into a health facility to get information and commodities they need in order to protect themselves,” Mailosi said.
“A lot of policies that we have on the ground have good intentions. They are meant to protect and we actually acknowledge the stakeholders in government for the efforts they are putting to maintain a good health system. However, there are still a number of weaknesses within some of these policies.”
Mailosi said there is need to reduce new HIV infections through easing access and restrictions on service provision particularly to adolescents who are engaging in risky behaviour owing to conditions placed on their right to use public health facilities for sexual reproductive health issues.
“We also want to see a decrease in the number of new HIV infections among young people, particularly those under the age of 16; they need parental consent to get these services. In case an adolescent needs to be tested, the process is rigorous; they will need to be tested in the presence of a social worker, which is sometimes not possible,” she said.
Speaking at the same event, Advocacy Core team co-chairperson Chamunorwa Mashoko said the issue of improved access to reproductive health facilities is critical as young people; mainly girls are impacted greatly by HIV and other related diseases resulting from unsafe practices.
“The law does not allow people below 16 to access services at health institutions without a parent or guardian’s consent. In most cases the young people delay or never seek attention at health institutions regarding sexual reproductive health.
“This particular meeting is designed to come up with relevant positions regarding the access to services by adolescents within the approved age of consent,” he said.
Another participant bemoaned the plight of young women affected by HIV, saying there is too much controversy surrounding their access to health facilities on matters associated with their status as well as reproductive health.
“There is a lot of stigma on young women living with HIV, which becomes a barrier to their access to other contraceptive services where in most cases they are denied service owing to their age and status,” Zimbabwe Young Positives national co-ordinator Anna Sango said.
Controversy surrounding the legal age of consent and access to sexual reproductive health services has perpetually hogged the limelight, with varied viewpoints on the issue coming to the fore.
Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health chairperson Ruth Labode (MDC Alliance) was under fire for her comment that suggested that the age of consent should be reduced to 12 from the current 16.
Former Primary and Secondary Education minister Lazarous Dokora was once castigated for refusing to allow the provision of condoms in schools.