Kampala, 8th March 2018
SRHR CSOs in Uganda meeting at Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum to deliberate the delayed Adolescent Health Policy by Ministry of Health
Uganda’s health ministry on the 21st November 2017 issued an official statement withdrawing the National Guidelines and Standards for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, fourth edition August 2017.
“The draft National Guidelines and Standards for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, were developed by Ministry of Health and partners. However, processes of consultation and approval were not yet complete by the time of printing in preparation for the launch at the national family planning conference. In addition, there are policy statements in each of the subsections that require approval by Cabinet, read the letter signed by Dr. Henry G. Mwebesa the AG. Director General Health Services.”
At a National Adolescent Health Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting held on 15th Feb 2018, Sr. Namugere Miriam the Adolescent Health Focal Point at ministry of health informed participants that the National Health Policy for Adolescents that has been under review could hit a snag like the SRHR guidelines and service standards. This was after the Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC) of the health ministry reviewed the draft policy and concluded that there was no need to have the policy and that any key issues for adolescent health could be integrated into the National Guidelines and Standards for SRHR. It should be noted that the guidelines being referred to here were the same withdrawn guidelines as noted above.
HPAC in it’s recommendations also noted that the draft policy, has contentious clauses around adolescent contraception and other SRHR issues like; rights, choice among others.
It should be noted that some of the issues considered contentious by HPAC were views and recommendations of young people during the various adolescent and youth consultation meetings held to review the initial draft policy and the second version of the draft. The adolescent and youth consultation held in June and September 2017 by Uganda Youth and Adolescent Health Forum (UYAHF) in partnership with ministry of health were aimed towards ensuring meaningful participation of adolescents and young people in the policy review process. Young people were able to develop a youth position paper with key recommendation which they presented at National Adolescent Health Policy validation meeting convened by MOH with support from UYAHF September 2017. Some of the key recommendation by young people included; lowering ages of consent to SRHR services to 15, expanding access to SRHR for adolescents and young people through making them wide available, affordable, providing a range of services, ensuring privacy and confidentiality, addressing negative health work attitudes, integration, addressing stigma and discrimination and making the policy environment supportive young people’s SRHR as well as protection from all forms of sexual and gender based violence and other harmful cultural and traditional practices.
The National Health Policy for Adolescents’ overall goal is to increase availability and accessibility of appropriate, acceptable, affordable and quality information and health services to all adolescents, regardless of gender, socio-economic status, disability and location. Additionally, the policy purposes to guide stakeholders, program officers and service providers on the criteria they will closely follow as they set up or scale up adolescent health services.
Analyzing the overall goal of the policy and its purpose, its evidently clear that it’s mandate and scope is not only limited to SRHR but broader adolescent health and wellbeing issues and hence not all these issues can be integrated in the SRHR guidelines which also have since been recalled.
For example, the policy is explicit in addressing issues ranging from prevention of adolescent pregnancy and related consequences, Health Promotion in schools, Prevention and management of mental, Neurological, Alcohol and Substance Abuse disorders, Prevention of STIs among adolescent boys and girls including HIV and AIDS and its health effects, Prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases in adolescence, Prevention of nutrition disorders and effects among adolescents, Prevention of health effects of of all forms of violence among adolescents, Prevention of disability from accidents and injuries among adolescents, mobilizing hard to reach vulnerable adolescents in humanitarian and fragile settings, meaning adolescent and youth participation, Advocacy research, resource mobilization, monitoring and evaluation and Institutional frameworks for policy implementation.
CSO partners discuss the next plan of action
But amidst all these developments, the ministry had not officially come out to inform the public and address key stakeholder on it’s next course of action or any planned policy alternatives in absence of the National Health Policy for Adolescents and the National Guidelines and Standards for SRHR.
This silence and trends of the shrinking adolescent health and SRHR policy environment has prompted CSOs working around SRHR issues to re-organize and re-strategies on next steps and course of action in holding government accountable to it’s commitments and pledges in expanding access and utilization of SRHR services for it’s population.
Uganda Youth and Adolescents Health Forum has played a key role in leading joint CSO engagements on it’s next course of actions. For example on 5th Feb 2018, UYHAF convened a meeting for CSOs to update each other on the status of the National Health Policy for Adolescents and the National Guidelines and Service Standards for SRHR, and lay joint advocacy action for holding ministry of health accountable to the National Adolescent Health Roadmap 2016, the revised PF2020 Commitments among other pledges where ministry of health has committed to finalizing the development and review process of the adolescent health policy and the SRHR guidelines and have them operationalized.
As an outcome of these engagements, CSOs have pledged support to several actions including; persuading ministry of health convene a CSO stakeholder meeting to update CSOs on it’s next plans, petitioning the ministry of health on the delayed approval and operationalization of the policy and service standards, media engagement to build public support, mobilizing and amplifying youth voices to demand, compiling and sharing evidence, lobbying high level decision makers at the ministry and MPs on the health committee of parliament to expedite the policy review and adoption process among others.
Various CSO partners including; Reproductive Health Uganda, Mariestoppes, Center for Health Human Rights and Social Development, Uganda Family Planning Consortium, Naguru Teenage Center, SRHR Alliance, Mama’s Club, Pace/ PSI, Planned Parenthood Global, UYAHF among other have embraced the move and committed to support the key recommendations and actions.