By G9ija

Love Matters Naija, a civil society organisation, on Thursday advocated an increase in awareness and access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in the country, especially among young people, in order for them to make safe, legal and informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.

The group also revealed that there is still a huge gap in the access to contraception and family planning services in the country, as 85.4 percent of unmarried women are demanding family planning, with 35.5 percent of married women demanding the same.

The Country Representative of Love Matters Naija, Alu Azege, made this known in a virtual press briefing in Abuja, to commemorate the World Contraception Day, in conjunction with Marie Stopes Nigeria.

She said, “Our experiences with young Nigerians, especially those less than 16 years, are that they complained of not being carried along with policies and structures on contraception.

“Our approach is a pleasurable one that makes it easy for young people to engage with us and be open-minded so that they can get the right information about Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services. A lot of people are engaged in different contraceptive options that are not safe and legal like using herbs, salt and water etc.

“We are therefore not judgmental; these young people come to our platform and get safe and reliable information about issues of love, relationships and sexual and reproductive health. Once they get this information, they can spread it to their peers.

“We are collaborating with the media to increase awareness about SRH. For those that are not on the social media space, we are working with radios. Before the year runs, we are planning to have focused-group discussions for those without radio and social media access.”

Also speaking, the Head of Marketing and Communications of Marie Stopes Nigeria, Ogechi Onuoha, said, “According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), 35.5 percent of married women in Nigeria are demanding family planning. In terms of the total demands that were met, that is, those using any method of family planning currently, 16.2 percent are using any family planning. However, 18.9 percent of the total demand of 35.5 percent is unmet.

“What is even more interesting for us is the sexually-active unmarried women. In terms of demand for family planning, 85.4 percent of this category of women are demanding family planning. However, only 37 percent are currently using any method, and that includes local/traditional methods. A very large number of 48.4 percent are unmet.

“The big challenge for both the young and old with respect to Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services is that sex and sexuality is largely seen as a social taboo. Therefore, it is discussed in hush tones.

“Because of perceived stigma, people are not very open to discussions about their sexuality and sexual health. Young people feel embarrassed to go to a pharmacy to buy a condom. We want to create a safe space where people can discuss issues of sexual health, be able to talk with service providers and are attended to without being judged. Service providers must learn to be friendly to clients – young and old.

“From trends in SRH in recent times, we see that there are a lot of policies but a gap in implementation. It is worthy to mention that the government and partners are doing a lot to address access to universal sexual and reproductive health services.

“This year’s theme for us is ‘my contraceptive choice’, and it is chosen because of the ignorance about contraceptives and the options available.”

She added, “COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on SRH services like other services in the health sector. There were initial fears during the lockdown in participating in surveys for fear of being infected. Also, people could not go out to access services for fear of being harassed by security officials. Commodity supply was also affected.

“Efforts by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) and other partners ensured that SRH was made to be an essential service. Providers and clients could not go out to access services without the fear of being harassed. The FMoH also made sure that commodities were easily moved and distributed, especially in areas where there was stock out.

“We are engaging religious leaders to demystify the challenges in contraception and family planning from the religious point of view. Religious leaders in Islam and Christianity are working with the government and other partners at the states level to teach people that planning their family is not a sin; they are selecting particular verses in the Quran and Bible that encourages family planning. This collaboration is still ongoing.”