The First Lady, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, has called for a concerted effort by family, community, educationists, health professionals and religious leaders in Africa to address adolescent reproductive health in Africa.
That, she said, had become necessary due to the fact that the family and community, which traditionally were the primary institutions for socialisation, were inhibited by cultural taboos or ignorance in respect of educating the youth about their sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights.
The First Lady made the call at the 19th General Assembly of the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA) organised on the sidelines of the 29th African Union (AU) summit on the theme, “Building on 15 years of engagement to harness the demographic dividend of Africa through promoting the needs of adolescents and their access to youth-friendly health services.”
The First Lady was speaking on the topic, “Should adolescents’ access to sexual and reproductive health information and services be the responsibility of health and education leaders or family and community leaders?”
Declaring that Africa had the highest fertility rate in the world of about five births per woman, Mrs Akufo-Addo asked, “What will our cities look like in the next 30 years if we fail to make the needed investments for adolescents to have easy and user-friendly access to information and services for SRH and rights?”
In many parts of Africa, including Ghana, she said adolescents were often ill-informed and ignorant of their rights, adding that often, they also lacked access to youth-friendly SRH services.
She said even where services were available, there were barriers which made it difficult for adolescents to access them.
The First Lady, said due to the numerous challenges that the youth faced, many adolescents lacked the knowledge required to make responsible and informed decisions and choices concerning their SRH.
Such lack of knowledge, she said, often made the youth vulnerable and prone to practices which resulted in unsafe abortion, child marriages, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.
According to her, Ghana had undertaken some initiatives to deal with the challenge.
These include the launch of the United Continental ‘‘All In’’ Campaign which aims at finding solutions to end adolescent AIDS and promotion of the involvement of adolescents in decision making regarding their SRH and rights and the revision of the National Adolescent Reproductive Health Policy, leading to an improvement in access to user-friendly clinics.
In her remark, the acting Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ms Natalia Kanem, said it was the responsibility of all on the continent to ensure that adolescents were fed with the required information on their reproductive health.
She called on the first ladies to work hand in hand with traditional leaders, religious bodies and communities to provide adequate and accurate information to the youth, saying 60 per cent of the population in Africa were under 25 years, with those between 10 to 19 forming 70 per cent, hence the need to target them early.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) African Regional Director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, called for more resources to be committed to the area of health, saying the health systems in Africa were under-funded, a situation which she said left a lot of adolescents with little access to health services.
Mrs Rosemary Museminali, on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said AIDS-related illnesses were the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 49 in Africa.