A Feature by Christabel Addo, GNA
Cape Coast C/R, Aug 16, GNA - No one can argue the fact that adolescents constitute an important section of every society in terms of their numbers and potential roles as parents of future generations.
This is the reason why they need to be equipped with the right information especially on health at an early stage, to place them in the best position to be able to practically apply such information to enhance their lives.
Furthermore, given the right information about their sexuality, will place them in a better position to become the ideal advocates of accurate health messages from now, and pass the knowledge to the future generation.
In view of this, it is quiet curious to note that individuals of such an important social segment should be neglected and discarded, and that no one seems to be interested in them or introducing them to basic issues that will enable them to preserve their physical and mental health to ensure that they become instrumental and responsible members of society.
Adolescence, is the most difficult period in the development of every human being, as it comes with physical, psychological and social changes and challenges.
A joint programme by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF, with funding from the Canadian Government is being modeled and rolled out across 36 districts, to implement the adolescent girls' vision, and scale up existing strategies and interventions to holistically serve the needs of this vulnerable group.
Dr Claudia M. Donkor, the Programme Analyst, Reproductive Health and of Humanitarian Assistance, UNFPA, stated that her Organisation in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has since 2018, been working towards leveraging efforts in improving access of adolescent refugee girls aged between 10 and 19 years to gender-responsive Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).
They have also been working to ensure equality youth-friendly Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services at refugee camps in the Western, Central and the former Brong Ahafo, as well as the Greater Accra Regions.
She said motivated by the urgent need to provide adolescents with the needed information and services regarding their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), and to sustain the intervention initiated at the camps and among the urban refugee population, three categories of refugee have been selected for a joint training by the UNFPA and UNHCR in Cape Coast in the Central region.
These categories involving two separate groups of adolescents, are being trained respectively as peer educators for CSE and in the use of interactive theatre for education, while an adult session is held for facilitators of effective Parent-Child communication in the respective camps and among the refugee population.
The 70 participants are from selected refugee camps in Fetentaa in the Bono, Agyeikrom in Central, as well as Ampain and Krisan both in the Western Regions, and also other refugees who are already integrated into societies in urban centres including Accra.
Topics treated by the various groups at the training include Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Legal Issues, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights including Family Planning, Self-esteem and assertiveness, Adolescence and Puberty, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in line with HIV and AIDS, personal hygiene, as well as interpersonal communication skills.
Ms Charlotte Sam Afful, the Facilitator for the group on CSE, said it was ideal for young people to abstain from pre-marital sex, but then those who were sexually active and cannot abstain must be helped to protect themselves with condoms and other family planning choices, to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies.
She explained the mode of transmission of STIs such as HIV and AIDS, and also Hepatitis B, saying the latter was highly contagious upon contact with body fluids from infected persons but can be treated with vaccines, compared to the former which can only be managed with Anti-Retrovirals.
Dr Afful further outlined some of the consequences of the lack of CSE for adolescents in the various refugee camps as the widespread unplanned pregnancies, STIs, child malnutrition, and high school dropout rates especially among girls.
She took the participants through very practical and interactive sessions on the anatomy of the male and female reproductive system, the changing processes that occur during adolescence, which include menstruation and childbirth.
There were also sessions on personal hygiene, and participants were given tips on how to manage their underwear's especially under their presently restricted environments, for the prevention of infections, and the participants were asked to immediately report to a health facility if they see any negative changes in their bodies, for proper testing, diagnoses and treatment.
During the session on SRHR, it came out that majority of the youth in these camps have become highly sexually active due to their peculiar situation and environment, with widespread poverty and the only means of survival for most of the girls is to rely on the mercies of older men for their daily meals and supply of other personal needs.
Also most of the young boys either abuse drugs or alcohol or are also sexually active.
Mr Wilfred Ivan Ziehi, from the Fetentaa Refugee Camp, complained about the lack of privacy in accessing condoms since the only machine is placed at an open place leading to stigma of potential users, and also inhibiting youth patronage, and asked for a relocation for the desired outcome.
The UNHCR believes that protecting refugees is a shared responsibility, and States, have the primary duty, but must do this in partnership with NGOs and International Agencies in orders to address the varied needs of these group of persons.
Again societies and governments have the responsibility of providing them with equal access to health care as a right, ensure respect for confidentiality and protect all persons against stigma and discrimination that resulted from their health status.
Dr Abraham Nyarko, a Consultant and facilitator for the adult group, explained that there were several barriers to effective communication with the adolescents, citing the use of jargons, lack of attention to their views, and acknowledgement of their views.
He encouraged parents to watch out for these disruptions and to create a friendly environment for their adolescent children to be able to freely share their opinion and needs with them.
Adolescents have the right to comprehensive healthcare and education which has a high tendency to change their present situations for good, and the government must ensure that all existing protocols concerning the rights of children including refugees are enforced, to secure a healthier future for Africa.