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Breaking Condom Barriers

A young man accessing condoms from an agent in Neno district A young man accessing condoms from an agent in Neno district - pic by Happy Njalam'mano

Buying condoms is one of tough experiences men and boys have ever experienced.

In super markets, men and boys have ended up buying bread and sugar instead of condoms; not because they wanted tea and bread, but because the tongue suddenly gets heavy to tell the till girl "give me condoms."

They can get into the shop or supermarket with courage to buy the protector, but because of shyness, the shopping list changes impromptu.

Many men have gone into a pharmacy, straight to condoms' shelf. The moment they stretch the hands to grab one, voila! Comes the young female pharmacy assistant.

"How may I help you, Sir?"  Men have ended up buying panado and aspirin because they cannot comfortably answer "I want condoms."

Some courageous men and boys buy condoms but a hard way. They have to take all their time in a pharmacy just to wait for the queue to last for them to pick a pack.

The scenario is the same in health facilities. Young people are tongue tied to ask for condoms, let alone any type of contraceptive.

Fear, humiliation and shyness are exposing many young people to unsafe sex because most service provision facilities are not friendly enough to accommodate them.

End result, increasing cases of teen marriages, pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

In 2020 alone, 2, 210 adolescent girls fell pregnant in Neno district. The figure rose from 1, 210 in 2019.

Adolescent and youth friendly health services coordinator in the district, Anthony Moda Sandiyang’ane, attributes the development to, among others, lack of contraceptive uptake among the youth.

Sandiyang’ane says 33 percent of expected pregnancies in the district are from adolescent girls.

Save the Children came up with the Youth Community Based Distribution Agents (YCBDA) approach in the district in an attempt to arrest the monster.

It is implementing the NORAD sponsored project through the Community Action for Sustainable Development Organization (CASDO) under the Securing Children’s Rights through Education and Protection (SCREP) programme.

The overall objective of the approach is to reduce teenage pregnancy that leads to child marriages and drop out of school.

26-year-old Charles Chikwasa is one 20 trained YCBDAs operating in the district.

His catchment area is Kam’mwamba, Group Village Headman Somisomi, Traditional Authority Symon.

His primary role is to reach out to fellow youth with Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Services.

“Providing contraceptives doesn’t mean we are promoting promiscuity among the youth. No. We are protecting them. Young people are forthcoming seeking the contraceptives. Most of them prefer condoms.

“About 10 to 15 boys get condoms in a day. About five girls get pills in a day. Condoms are mostly preferred by the youth as they also protect them from sexually transmitted infections,” said Chikwasa.

Chikwasa says through the programme, the agents do outreach activities one a month to reach out to fellow youth in their localities.

“The approach has managed to reduce teen pregnancies, of course not much but there is a tremendous improvement in my area,” says Chikwasa who covers area of five village headmen.

The project supported YCBDAs with bicycles, drug box, gum boots rain suits and umbrellas to help them to safely deliver their services.

Through youth clubs, agents mobilize their fellow youths and offer family planning services during club sessions and at their homes.

15-year-old Mary Chikopa is a member of Chikavumbwa Youth Club at Kam’mwamba.

She says the contraceptives are a way to go in ensuring that young people finish their education.

“Early pregnancies affect education. Most young girls have failed to go on with their education because they have fallen pregnant in this area.

“I am grateful to SCREP for this youth club which is shaping us for a brighter future,” says Mary who wants to be a police woman in future.  

Since the introduction of the programme, 9, 885 young people aged 10 – 24 were reached with sexual reproductive health messages in 2018.

The figure rose to 22, 836 in 2020.

From January to August 2021, 30, 713 young people were reached with the information.

Sandiyang’ane expects a drop in teen pregnancy statics in the district in 2021, owing to SCREP.

“The youth-targeted outreach clinics by SCREP have helped to raise awareness among the youth on sexual reproductive health rights. We see light at the end of tunnel,” he says.

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