Many young people in Malawi have no clue how to use condoms due to lack of access to youth friendly health services (YFHS), something which is exposing them to sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.
This is happening at a time the Ministry of Health has also found that many young people are sexually active.
According to the research evaluation summery, between the age of 10 and 14, 20.3 % of boys had ever done sex, a figure which increased to 81.9 % when the boys were between the ages of 20 to 24.
On the part of girls, about 5.3% had had sex between the age of 10 and 14, a percentage which shot up to 86.4% when they were between the age of 20 and 24.
With such statistics, youth friendly health services, would have, if they were accessible, been ideal to help young people with information regarding sexual reproductive health.
Ironically, in most rural areas, young people know little to nothing about sexual reproductive health. This is exposing them to premarital and casual unprotected sexual conducts which are risky.
Our snap survey in some parts of Karonga and Nkhatabay west, established that, despite being sexually active, most young people do not have knowledge on how they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and early pregnancies.
Some even get married without going for HIV testing and counseling, a thing which can likely influence the spread of the virus among them.
George Kondowe aged 18, lives at Kapilikalanda village traditional authority Wasambo in Karonga district. He admitted in an interview to have had his first conjugation at the age of 12. To date, he has, though without using condoms, slept with a number of girls.
“I have never seen a condom neither have I used one during any of my sex. But if you ask about sex, I have been sleeping with girls since I was very young, as young as maybe 12 years. Here, it’s easy to have sex during several night gatherings,” said George.
“About HIV,” he added, “I have ever heard about that but never had and I still don’t have enough information. All I overheard people saying one day was that it is transmitted through sex.”
Being one of the remotest areas in Karonga, people from Kapilikalanda, have to endure a distance of 30 kilometers to Sangiro mission health center to access medication on relatively punitive charges, the clinic being run as private.
At the clinic, which has only one qualified medical assistants, there are no youth friendly health services on offer. This means, people from Kapilikalanda have nowhere close to access reproductive health services.
The problem is shared by communities surrounding Chonanga and Ndomu who equally have nowhere close to access reproductive health services and youth friendly health services.
Using questioners, it was found that almost all young people don’t know their HIV status in the aforementioned communities. This is because they have nowhere close to get their blood tested and neither do they have knowledge on the importance of knowing ones HIV status.
In Nkhatabay west, most young people get married without bothering to go for VCT due to problems in accessing reproductive health services.
Marita Chirwa got married at 17 in December, 2018 and admitted that she and her husband never went for blood testing before getting married because they have no knowledge about the whole concept of blood testing.
“We never went for that,” she said. “And nobody has ever bothered to go for that because we have no knowledge about that here. At the hospital, there is nothing like that. ”
According to recent demographic survey, In Malawi, 29% of adolescent women age 15-19 are already mothers or pregnant with their first child. Teenage fertility is higher in rural areas (31%) than urban areas (21%). Adolescent women in the poorest households are nearly three times as likely as those in the wealthiest households to have begun childbearing (15% versus 44%).
Overall, 3.0% of Malawian youth age 15-24 are HIV positive. HIV prevalence is higher among young women (4.9%) than among young men (1.0%). HIV prevalence among youth increases with age.
Among young women, HIV prevalence is lowest at age 15-17 (3.0%) and highest at age 23-24 (9.6%).This concurs with the aforementioned research survey which indicates that sexual activities in Malawi increase with age.
Lack of information in Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) is affecting the rural youth in the country as they are more vulnerable to getting infected by HIV, according to the National Youth Council of Malawi (NYCOM) Executive Director Aubrey Chibwana.
Chibwana told the local media that the large gap between the urban and rural youths on SRH information is rendering the latter disadvantaged and more affected when it comes to HIV and AIDS.
He added that this is so because a lot of NGOs are working in the urban areas than the rural communities.
“The urban youths are able to demand youth friendly SRH services from the hospitals but when it comes to the rural areas, you will find out they don’t have proper information and ways to do the same a development which is leaving them at high risk of HIV and AIDS,” he said.
He also added that lack of resources is a major factor impeding the youth to have access to SRH services.
“The country’s health sector is passing thorough some economic problems and because the rural youths are unable to demand some services, you will always find out that they are excluded from the meager resources available to the hospitals,” he said.