Advocacy recommendations for lowering age of access to services

Advocacy recommendations for lowering age of access to services

Young people in Nigeria, in particular adolescent girls and young women, continually face barriers accessing sexual and reproductive health services (SRH) and information. Education as a Vaccine (EVA) under the PITCH partnership, developed an advocacy strategy and successfully pushed for lowering of the age of access to HIV and SRH services. Toyin Chukwudozie and Sarbyen Sheni of EVA share valuable recommendations for effective advocacy strategies.

What has been EVA’s approach in lowering age of access for SRH services?

We built the capacity of adolescents and young people on SRHR and on advocacy, to ensure that they take ownership of the campaigns targeting their specific needs. We engaged a wide range of stakeholders working on young people’s health. We conducted policy reviews, press conferences and leveraged social media to advocate for improved access to services across the country. Last but not least, we formed a coalition to collectively pool resources to make our movement sustainable.

Toyin and Sarbyen of EVA

What achievement are you most proud of?

At the Adolescent Health Technical Working Group meeting in Benue state in March 2020, the Deputy Director of Benue Department of Public Health made a commitment to send out a memorandum to health facilities. The memo stated that adolescents should be provided with health services, without any discrimination based on their age and without requiring parental consent. It serves as a mandate to the health workers in the state.

This memo has gone beyond our ask to provide HIV and SRH services to adolescents aged 14 and above. This is our biggest success and proud moment.

What has positively changed for young people as a result of your advocacy?

There has been increased knowledge of the challenges young people in Nigeria face in accessing health care as a result of the age of consent barrier. This has led to stronger support from adolescents and young people, and stakeholders at all levels. The age of access to services has become a key issue in the health sector.

What have been a key lesson in your advocacy strategy?

Our interactions with stakeholders led to a change in language, from age of consent to age of access. In decision-making spaces age of consent was often perceived as consent for sex. The adoption of the new phrase created a more welcome avenue to push for elimination of  access barriers.

We have also learned the importance of intensifying advocacy at sub-national level. With the coalition of CSO members, we will continue to push the agenda forward at state and national level.

What are next steps to be taken in 2021?

Our priorities for 2021 include following up on primary health care facilities in Benue to ensure that they adhere strictly to the memo issued. Furthermore, we want to facilitate sharing and learning sessions, to share experiences on our advocacy efforts on lowering the age of access, in different spaces and locations across the country. We are also involved in the amendment of the National Health Act, advocating for inclusion of SRHR of adolescent girls and young women, young people living with HIV and other vulnerable groups.

What will be your main recommendation for youth organisations that are about to start age of access advocacy?

I have more than one recommendation! First of all, inspire community ownership by engaging community leaders and other relevant stakeholders. In Benue state, we gained stakeholder support. This resulted in action taken to ensure non-discriminatory services for adolescents and young people in primary healthcare centers.

Also, we recommend to invest in data and evidence gathering to inform advocacy. Use storytelling and document personal experiences of adolescents at service delivery points. Personal stories put a face to statistics.

Furthermore, with the outbreak of coronavirus, we identified the need to develop flexible strategies to continue advocacy. This includes the use of digital platforms, which you can take advantage of post-COVID-19 as well.

Lastly, it is important to invest in partnerships. Build alliances with like-minded organisations and government stakeholders such as in the Ministry of Health and the agency in charge of the national HIV response.

About EVA and PITCH

Toyin Chukwudozie works as the Team Leader, and Sarbyen Sheni as a Program Officer in the Advocacy and Policy influencing unit at Education as a Vaccine (EVA) in Nigeria, a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 aiming to improve the health and development of children, adolescents, and young people.

The Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response (PITCH) has been implemented from 2016-2020 and aimed to achieve effective and meaningful policy solutions. The partnership did this by building networks, enhancing the use of evidence and strengthening the capacity of civil society to advocate.

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