ZIMBABWE Young Positives (ZY+), a youth led network that advocates for the needs of Young People Living With HIV (A & YPLHIV) has bemoaned the pressure COVID-19 has exerted on health systems which has resulted in healthcare workers being overwhelmed and turning a blind eye to the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) needs of YPLHIV.
By Patricia Mashiri
Speaking during a media engagement on bodily autonomy funded by AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), Chido Katsiga, the Assistant Communications and Advocacy Officer ZY+ said the COVID-19 pandemic has been restricting adolescents from getting SRHR.
Adolescent Girls and Young Women Living With HIV (AGWY) mentioned that they are facing humiliation at health centres where their health status is being accidentally or involuntarily disclosed either by health service providers or other Staff around the health facilities.
“The involuntarily disclosure bred harassment, embarrassment to AGYW and threatened community exposure. Others highlighted that health service providers said they were spending their time working on COVID-19 issues and SRHR issues are secondary issues which can be dealt with after the pandemic,” said Katsiga.
She added that most health facilities were issuing medications without consultations or any other services like counseling due to COVID-19 issues and this has an impact on the quality of care and services offered to YPLHIC.
Rutendo (not real name), an AGYW representative said the world hasn’t embraced that youths were already engaged in sexual activities and they should access SRHR services and the COVID-19 pandemic has been making the services unreachable.
“We have been judged by health care providers as youths for requesting services like family planning and we end up not getting the services which is one of the factors which led to the rise of unwanted pregnancies and STIs during the lockdown periods.
“We appeal to the government to hear the youth led communities and remove restrictive policies for instance the age of consent which restricts 16 years from accessing these services without consent from guardians. There have been also an issue of incidental closure of HIV status especially to the security forces mounting road blocks during the lockdown periods when we were going to collect our periodically medications from health facilities. We didn’t have travel letters and we ended up giving them our medical collection cards to let us pass which bred stigma and embarrassment,” Chaka said.
Meanwhile, Memory (not real name) said the COVID-19 pandemic also led to a spike in Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases in homes as people were confined in one place for long periods.
“We were forced to live with perpetrators of violence especially the family members and it risked us being subjected to multiple counts of violence and having no chance but to remain in the same space as most of them are the breadwinners in the family.
“Also, the lockdown brought water and sanitation issues especially for hygiene management. Water collection points during the lockdown period were overwhelmed because a lot of people were spending time home and needing more water. This has been affecting our menstrual hygiene as we do not have freedom to use adequate water for washing our bodies as well as cleaning menstrual hygiene commodities,” Memory said.
The Zimbabwe Young Positives with the support of ARASA managed to engage service providers and district AIDS coordinators through advocacy meetings sharing AGYWs advocacy priorities, capacitated the AGYWs with with assertiveness , negotiation and problem solving skills so that they will be able to realize their SRHR including bodily autonomy.