Ideas & Debate

How students can enjoy improved sexual health

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Graduands during Moi University’s 38th graduation ceremony on August 22, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

Summary

  • Poor reproductive health of young people is a major public health concern as they represent 26 percent of the population.
  • Among the youth, for every one man infected with HIV, there are four women.
  • Kenya is home to young people with 75 percent of its population under 30 years of age, a number that is expected to continue to rise by 2050.

Health and wellbeing are vital ingredients in how young people today feel, think and act. Higher and tertiary learning institutions have a big role to play in ensuring that students are well taken care of.

Most students join the university during the age of transition to adulthood. The newfound freedoms coupled with culture shock in varsities often overwhelm the young people leading to myriad challenges including drugs and substance abuse, gender-based violence, mental health, HIV/Aids infections and teenage pregnancies.

In regards to sexual health awareness, young people need to be informed about sexually transmitted infections and contraceptives so that they can have good sexual health. According to a report by BMC Public Health (2018) on reproductive health among college students in Kenya, there are approximately 1.7 billion young people globally with 86 percent living in developing countries.

Locally, poor reproductive health of young people is a major public health concern as they represent 26 percent of the population. Fourteen percent of maternal mortality and 11percent of all new births globally are in females aged 15–19 years, 95 percent of births in adolescents occur in developing countries.

Among the youth, for every one man infected with HIV, there are four women. Between 60–80 percent of African women infected with the virus have been through sexual intercourse. An estimated 1.3 million adolescent girls and 780,000 adolescent boys are living with the virus. There is, therefore, need to raise awareness and make sexual health information accessible to young adults.

Youth wellbeing and quality education support sustainable development goals (SDGs) and thus improving access will ensure they reach their full educational potential and contribute more effectively to the development of their countries and regions as they enjoy improved sexual and reproductive health.

On September 30, UNESCO in collaboration with the University of Nairobi (UoN) and Mount Kenya University, launched the O3Plus to promote the health and wellbeing of students in institutions of higher learning in Kenya. The O3Plus stands for Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future. The project targets to achieve a consistent reduction in new HIV infections, early and unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence, and child marriage in higher and tertiary education institutions.

Through the support of the government of Sweden and other partners, O3Plus builds on current efforts by UNESCO to improve sexual and reproductive health, and gender and education outcomes for adolescents and young adults. The project seeks to ensure that young people realise positive health, education and gender equality outcomes.

Kenya is home to young people with 75 percent of its population under 30 years of age, a number that is expected to continue to rise by 2050. This young population comes with tremendous potential for achieving Kenya’s development, but only if sustained investments are made to address the education and health challenges that continue to undermine young people’s potential.

The O3Plus project will ultimately make a direct contribution to the achievement of the SDGs around education, health and gender, and their specific targets. It will also advance the attainment of other key SDGs, especially those related to poverty, hunger, and peaceful and just society.

To meaningfully engage adolescents and young people – not simply as beneficiaries, but as leaders informing programming –UNESCO is collaborating with the UoN and Mount Kenya University to create and host O3Plus hubs in their respective campuses, essentially safe spaces for students to discuss and get assistance, guidance or referrals on health and wellbeing.

The project will complement ongoing work by other development partners by focusing on evidence-based policy and technical guidance, promoting and supporting research on sexual and reproductive health issues, facilitating the sharing of good practices and proven innovative approaches to widen access to information and services.

The significance of this collaboration is to build on already established initiatives while taking advantage of new opportunities. One of the established initiatives between UoN and UNESCO is the Rada mobile application (app) on health. The app gives students access to information on sexual and reproductive health, professional and peer counselling and acts as a helpline in case of an emergency within the university.

The O3Plus project will also strengthen the delivery of content through curriculum development and capacity development of lectures. It will leverage social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness among students on where they can access it through their mobile phones.

According to research done by the Christian Mission UK (2019), university students, especially those in government institutions and particularly students who are from poor backgrounds, mostly suffer from mental health issues. Some of these students end up dropping out of universities and are unfortunately not able to reach their full potential.