By Umar Weswala
Expectations and preferences of young people from different backgrounds may differ but judging from my interactions with adolescents and Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) service providers from different parts of Uganda, the following key common characteristics have always come up whenever it comes to adolescent friendly health services: Confidentiality, availability, accessibility and acceptability.
The Ministry of Health, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partner organisations have done a lot in meeting the above conditions but there are places in the country where health services like emergency contraception are simply not available to adolescents.
In areas where health services are available, adolescents have trouble accessing them because of restrictive cultural or religious beliefs. There is also evidence of adolescents not knowing where and when health services are provided. In some places, health facilities are located a long distance from where adolescents live or study. To some young people, health services are expensive.
Some adolescents shy away from health services for fear of being seen by certain people. Some young people I have interacted with do not approve of what they refer to as unpleasant procedures subjected to them by some service providers.
Girls and street children complain of some form of stigma whenever they visit some service providers.
In Uganda, there is growing recognition of the need to overcome these barriers and to make it easier for adolescents to obtain the health services they need.
Stakeholders in Uganda have come up with innovative initiatives of making health services more adolescent friendly.
One such initiative is the leveraging of mobile technology or using new media/mobile Apps to promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
In Uganda, internet and mobile technologies have become integrated into our lives as essential forms of communication. An entire generation has grown up with these new channels for gathering and sharing information.
The UNFPA and its partners that are involved in promoting ASRH have, therefore, taken advantage of the technologies available and the thriving online and mobile networks community, to improve access to services and communicate sexual health information to young people.
The just concluded HackForYouth Hackathon event held in Kampala at Sheraton Hotel was the best first step towards achieving a generation in which young people with the help of mobile technology will access SRH information services wherever and wherever they are.
During the Hackthone, Young innovators from Uganda and other parts of the world had the opportunity to work alongside UNFPA and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) experts for a three-day challenge to develop mobile app solutions to promote young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health.
· UNFPA, Reach a Hand and others behind the HackForYouth Massachusetts Institute of Teachnology and Sana believe that technology is here to stay. It may never replace human interaction and intimacy, but the power of the digital world to reach large numbers of youth with accurate sexual health information cannot be underestimated.
· In order to stay in touch, sexual health educators need to be flexible, interactive, and fresh.
· If the Apps developed during the Hackathone pass the test, large numbers of young people will be reached with accurate information, and the ability to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services for those most in need will be enhanced.
· All health service providers should go where youth are, rather than asking them to come to them.
· Each developed app should each be used for what it can do best. For instance, a text messaging app will serve better for referrals and reminders, than unraveling complex sexuality issues.
· Young people must be engaged in design, implementation and evaluation of the Apps or any other innovations for promoting ASRH.
· Young people are the best promoters you’ll ever have because they know how best to engaging each other on different mobile platforms. Engaging them in designing the apps is therefore a good idea.
The writer is a managing editor