Experts have identified areas needed to support the young people as an investment to help the country to get on to the path to development
Uganda's population is predominantly made up of the youth. Data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicates that adolescent and youth account for 70% of the population.
This, according to Dr Betty Kyadondo who is the director of the family health department at the National Population Council (NPC), has got huge implications. Uganda will not be able to harness the demographic dividends and consequently, the country will not achieve Vision 2014 which is rolled out a five-year basis as the National Development Plan, Kyadondo noted.
"The young generation is highly dependent on the very few working adults. Because they are earning and taking care of the young ones, they cannot save or invest which denies us the opportunity to reap the dividends," Kyadondo said.
Kyadondo was speaking during a district based intergenerational dialogue on sexual and reproductive health rights organised by Amref Health Africa-Uganda at Kabira Country club on Monday.
The dialogue attracted youths from the districts of Kabale, Soroti, Kisoro, Serere and Dokolo. Other participants were Members of Parliament, health workers, development partners, civil society organisations and health ministry officials.
Amref Health Africa head of programs, Dr Patrick Kagurusi said the dialogue was mainly to enable the participants to interact and share the needs of young people.
Kyadondo said experts have identified areas needed to support the young people as an investment to help the country to get on to the path to development.
Specifically, she said there is a need to rapidly reduce both the fertility and maternal mortality rates.
Kyadondo, however, said this cannot be achieved unless government invests in contraceptives to decrease the base of the young people at the bottom of the population pyramid.
The data shows that young people have a role to play because teenage pregnancy is as high as 25%, according to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey, 2016. On average, girls in rural areas get pregnant at the age of 16.7 and while it happens much later among girls in urban areas.
Lira district youth councillor James Omala Elem who is also the chairperson of the health committee estimated that in the financial year 2017/18, 5000 teenage pregnancies were recorded.
"Because of not using contraception, the girls continue getting pregnant frequently which puts the unmet need among adolescents at 30.4%. By the time a rural girl is 23, she has three children on average or even more," Kyadondo said.
Unfortunately, young people may not even know whether the services are available and where to find them. This according to Prof. Francis Omaswa the executive director African Center for Global Health and Social Transformation, calls for working with the community, in addition to using a multi-sectoral approach.
Additionally, Kyadondo said NPC will continue to do policy dialogues and create awareness through different channels; at community and religious level.
"Policies are in place but they are not being implemented. The guidelines are there but they are not being supported. So we want to have discussions with all the stakeholders to ensure policies and guidelines are implemented and supported," Kyadondo said.
She also highlighted the need to create awareness through different channels through community and religious leaders. This, according to Kyadondo will help the public appreciate the impact of not doing what they are supposed to do.
This is a leaf borrowed from what happened to address HIV/AIDS, where everybody was brought on board and supported the campaign because lives were being lost.
"It is the same thing happening now. Lives are going because we have failed to support young people's sexual and reproductive health," she noted.
"It will be easy to speak about supporting young people when we are not promoting only their health, but rather address issues of the youth through a holistic approach.
"We need to integrate sexual and reproductive health through empowerment programmes, economic activities and all the things young people are involved in," Kyadondo urged.
This comes at the time when there is heated argument on the adolescent health policy which is yet to be approved. At the same time, others want to trash it.
But as the young people continue chanting the slogan; ‘Nothing for us without us', Moses Bwire who is Founder Peer to Peer, said there is the need to bring young people together to discuss their issues themselves.
As part of the dialogue activities, the youth also petitioned the government to involve young people in the policy-making processes up to the grassroots as the urban and rural youth seem to have different perceptions regarding SRHR services.