ZIMBABWE has over the years been battling soaring cases of teenage pregnancies, early marriages, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV infections in adolescents among a host of other sexual reproductive health related issues.
By Michael Gwarisa recently In Zvimba
According to the National Adolescent Fertility Study (NAFS) of 2016 conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC), adolescent pregnancies remain a major contributor to maternal and child mortality in Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwe, the adolescent fertility rate for women aged 15-19 years was 115 births per 1,000 women of the same age in 2015. Even though the fertility rates among women aged 20 and above have dropped in other countries over the past two decades, the burden remains high for Zimbabwe.
The rise in pregnancies and other sexually related ailments has been largely due to the lack and in some cases absence of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) education and information at community level.
Currently Mashonaland Central leads the pack in teenage pregnancies with indications that cases currently stand at 31% followed by Matabeleland South which has 30%, Harare 10% and Bulawayo 12 %.
However, all is not gloom and doom for Zimbabwe, there could be light at the end of tunnel following indications of tangible and practical results from a Parent to Child Communication (PCC) initiative being piloted by the ZNFPC in areas where they have set up Youth Friendly Centres.
The PCC initiative is being conducted around all the 27 youth friendly centres in all the country’s 10 provinces. For Mashonaland West, ZNFPC has taken things a notch higher by moving into communities and invading Traditional Brewed beer gatherings (Ndari) to disseminate SRHR issues to parents and elders under neutral and flexible environments.
In an interview with HealthTimes, Loveness Chishiri a peer educator with the Kasanze Youth Friendly Centre said the youth centre empowered most young girls in the community to control and manage their own Sexual reproductive health issues.
“At the youth centre we are taught of challenges associated with getting married early. Among other issues learnt here are STIs and family problems. This youth centre is about 15 KM from my home so I usually get home late at night and sleep. As a result, I don’t have time for girl talk about boyfriends as on Sundays I go to church and on Monday I go to school.
“Of all my friends I play with, one eloped last year. I come with most of my friends here at this youth centre where they are getting assistance and education regarding the dangers of early marriages and elopement. The one who eloped was however unfortunate for she did not know much of the challenges. So I feel this youth centre is very helpful to us and it is my dream to see an increase in peer educators in the country as well as youth centres to decrease the horrors of early child marriages and teenage pregnancies,” said Loveness.
ZNFPC has managed to bring convince parents in the Zvimba community to talk about the SRHR issues and this could bear tangible results in the not so distant future.
Cuthbert Zvarai, the ZNFPC Youth Advisor for Kasanze said even though getting parents to talk of SRHR related issues was not an easy call, they had managed to penetrate and break those barriers in Zvimba through their comprehensive sexuality education and PCC programs.
“We are moving around the community talking to parents and children through our parent to child communication program (PCC). Our aim is get parents and children to sit down and talk about their Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) issues in a bid to ensure children grow up to achieve their goals in life.
“We had several challenges we faced before which include resistance from parents, especially the male counterparts. Most men in these communities do not want to support health programs, in most cases, they think it is only a women issues.
“We then realised that the only way we could tap into the male population was by getting into their spheres and in this case, most men around here spend time at traditional brewed beer gatherings. Now we are visiting these places where traditional beer is sold and we invite both women and men to the platforms for discussions,” said Zvarai.
He however added that the PCC program can only be effective if both parents are in agreement and allow room for change in their lives. He also said they are currently offering comprehensive sexuality edition for the in-school and out of school young youths in a bid to empower them for future tasks.
The comprehensive sexuality education program takes up to 31 weeks for a student to be fully empowered and equipped with information. The PCC manual is however a bit shorter than the comprehensive sexuality education.
Speaking on the issue of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) amongst adolescents and youths in the area, Zvarai said there was a downward trend in infections.
“When I started here in 2011, we saw about four cases of STIs the whole year. For once I thought STIs was not a big issue. In 2012 the cases however went up and we realised health seeking behaviour amongst youths was very poor. This health seeking behaviour was necessitated by at times the attitude of nurses and health staff towards the young people.
“We have massive article mining activities going on in areas like Chegutu and most young people go there and return with STIs. 2016 was our worst year, we had about 16 cases but as of now, cases are going down. In 2018, we had six and seven cases.”
He however added there was need for community dialogues in a bid to curb the rising teenage pregnancy cases.
Mashonland West Provincial Manager for ZNFPC, Mr Geshem Madzingaidzo said the PCC program had proven to be effective as evidenced by the response from an increased number of parents who have been engaged through home brewed bear visits and other interventions.
“The youth come here at the youth friendly centre at times for the library and recreational activities. They also offer sexual reproductive health services here. We also do some PCC programs within the community where we engage adults in discussing SRHR issues, our staff here identify the areas where the parents might be in need of information relating to parent communication issues.
“There is a good strategy that they have designed here because they have realised that catching the male counterparts was difficult. So now they go where the males normally gather and you know they gather at traditional brewed beer events,” said Mr Madzingaidzo.
The women in the Zvimba area have come up with an innovative way of selling their traditional beer and have classified it according to the days of the week. ZNFPC is also riding on that opportunity to also get into these gatherings to disseminate information and capture the hard to reach elders of the communities.