Providing youth-friendly health services
Maputo 1 June 2007- As part of its visit to Mozambique, a delegation of the United States Fund for UNICEF had the opportunity this week to witness the commitment of young Mozambicans in the response to HIV and AIDS. At the Alto Maé health centre, in Maputo city, the visitors were briefed on the work of Jovial, a group of 19 young activists of the youth-friendly health services (YFHS).
On arrival at the health centre, the delegation was warmly welcomed at the entrance by some representatives of this group of young people, just as they habitually welcome any adolescent or youth who goes to these services. Inside the reception, gaily decorated with posters, leaflets and messages abut sexual and reproductive health, a larger group of activists was waiting to speak about themselves and the positive impact of their activity. The atmosphere in the room was conducive to a frank and open discussion.
The Jovial group, as described by its members, consists of young men and women up to the age of 23, who were involved in dance and theatre, and came together to open the YFHS. The first of these services was set up by Jovial at the Alto Maé health centre in 1999.
“We decided to become involved in the creation of the YFHS in order to help young people, because many youths are ashamed of going to the health services, because much older people will attend to them. We wanted to reach these young people, and provide them with help and information about sexual and reproductive health”, said 22 year old Célio Boíssa.
The fear of stigma and discrimination makes adolescents and youths less likely to adopt preventive strategies against the risk of sexually transmitted infections, to take the HIV test, for example, to enter treatment, and to inform their sexual partners of their HIV status.
The YFHS, an initiative supported by UNICEF, offers low cost health services that are accessible, confidential and neutral, specially aimed at adolescents and young people, who are between 9 and 24 years old.
The YFHS provides adolescents and youths with life skills, and provides counselling in sexual and reproductive health through young peer educators and health professionals. The counselling covers various areas such as how to prevent HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, the prevention of unwanted pregnancy, and family planning, skills in negotiating with one’s partner to practice safe sex, and other themes.
“We have individual or group counselling sessions, depending on the choice made by those who seek out our services. Often we receive groups of young people from schools who prefer a collective discussion of their concerns” explains 22 year old Dino Chilenge, the deputy coordinator of Jovial.
“Generally we receive 20 to 25 adolescents and youths a day. They learn of the existence of the YFHS through friends, or through our focal points in the schools, and through cultural activities such as the theatre we perform in various places”, added Dino Chilenge.
During the delegation’s visit, the members of Jovial performed one of their plays about life skills, which deals with matters such as the importance of safe sex, the use of condoms, dialogue, voluntary HIV tests, and anti-retroviral treatment.
Faced with the growing impact of HIV/AIDS on adolescents and youths, an increasing number of YFHS are also providing HIV tests and anti-retroviral treatment. In 2006, it was estimated that 8.9 per cent of girls aged between 15 and 19 anos and 2.9 per cent of boys of the same age group in Mozambique were HIV-positive. It was also estimated that 22.6 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 were HIV-positive, as were 7.5 per cent of men of the same age.
Since 1998, UNICEF has supported the establishment of 58 YFHS – 14 of which include HIV testing services – out of around 160 existing in the country, in partnership with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the government authorities and NGOs in Maputo and Gaza, Manica, Sofala, Zambézia and Cabo Delgado provinces. In Maputo City alone there are currently 16 of these centres.
In 2006, over 62.000 adolescents and young people benefited from services provided by the YFHS supported by UNICEF.