Education as a Vaccine (EVA) participated in the maiden National Conference on Adolescent Health and Development titled “Leaving no Young Person Behind: Advancing Adolescent Health”. It was held from 10th to 13th April 2019 at the Otunba Subomi Balogun Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, Oyo State. It was an occasion for us to insist once again on the importance of lowering the age of consent for accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and HIV services for young people.
The Conference was organised for organisations addressing health and development challenges facing adolescents and young people in Nigeria. This includes mental health, nutrition, trauma, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS. It was an opportunity to assess where Nigeria is, evaluate recent developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward on adolescent health and development.
Bem Alugh – EVA’s Individual and Community Capacity Strengthening Team Lead, co-chaired the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) Session at the pre-conference. Discussions were on the Ethical Issues in Adolescents’ Health Research and Programme, with a primary focus on the age of consent.
At the opening, Professor Adesegun Fatusi, the National President of the Society of Adolescent and Young People’s Health in Nigeria (SAYPHIN), said the conference was aimed at charting a way forward for adolescent health and development in Nigeria. He expressed the hope that a road map for advancing adolescent health would be achieved at the end of the conference.
“Adolescents, who are young people in the society, suffer the greater burden of HIV infection, drug abuse and sexual harassment in the country, this conference is one of the major efforts of stakeholders in advancing adolescent health and development,’’ he said.
Joy Oboyi, a youth advocate at EVA made a presentation on the Adolescents Health Research and Programme: Voice of the Community. She lamented on the challenges adolescents and young people face accessing comprehensive SRH services in their communities using the stories of her experiences and that of her peers. As a young advocate who has been denied access to sexual and reproductive health services, she called for a reduction in the age of consent for sexual and reproductive health and HIV services to 14 years and waiver of fees for adolescent young people to have access to SRH services in Nigeria.
The reality is, most primary health care centres in Nigeria are in a deplorable state and the closing hours are not youth-friendly as most of them close at a time young people are still in school. This clearly shows the need for youth-friendly centres and services across the country.
During a panel of discussion titled Integrating Adolescents and Youth-friendly Services (AYFHS) into Primary Health Care (PHC) – How Far, How Well and the Prospects, Dr Adefunke Adesope, the representative of the National Primary Heath Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), spoke on Integrating AYFHS into PHC: Public Sector Efforts, Challenges and Prospects. Bem Alugh called on the NPHCDA to improve the standard of primary healthcare centres.
“…Make it more attractive to young people, ensure they are opened 24 hours, and build the capacity of service providers to provide youth-friendly services asides with the immunization and ante-natal centres young people have come perceived them to be”.
Considering that the sub-theme of the conference was, Advancing Adolescents Health in Nigeria in the Era of SDG, the role of young people in ensuring social accountability and commitment from government and relevant stakeholders toward the Agenda 2030 cannot be overemphasised.
Finally, Itoro Effiong, EVA’s Program Officer made a presentation on the “Development of Youth-led HIV Scorecard in Nigeria”. He called upon best practice for youth networks/organisations/individuals to engage and hold the state government accountable in the
implementation of the HIV laws and policies as well as guidelines that will help to fast track the 90-90-90 target.
Overall, this conference further supported EVA’s efforts in advocating for the health and well-being of adolescents and young people, especially in securing the commitment of stakeholders to the reduction of the age of consent to 14 years old.