"We support young people to make healthy choices"

March 16, 2015

’My goal is to prevent youth to drop out of school, as this makes them vulnerable to STIs, including HIV, and other diseases, violence, unemployment, stigma, and so on.’ Damaris Oyando is a programme officer at Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK). Within the Access, Service and Knowledge (ASK) programme, she coordinates seven health centres that offer integrated youth-friendly services. Focusing on the realities on the ground, the programme tackles the barriers that young people experience. Meet Damaris!

Damaris Oyando of WOFAK

Are health services in Kenya youth-friendly enough?

‘In general, in Kenya doctors and other health care personnel in health clinics don’t take issues adolescents face seriously. A striking example is the young girl who consulted a doctor because of painful private parts. The doctor prescribed treatment for urinal infection, without asking further if she happened to have had sex. Because minors are considered to be too young for having sex.

Another barrier young people face when seeking health care to get tested for HIV is the age of consent, which is 18. In our centres we do test girls and boys of 15 years and above for HIV without consent of their parents or caretakers. At this age, many of them are already sexually active. With this in mind, we support them in making healthy choices and guide them in their sexual rights. And adolescents can come to our centres to collect condoms – neither question nor preach from our side.’

What services do your health centres offer to young people?

‘Education on safe sex for young people is not allowed in Kenya. At least not in public. Each of our centres has two youth counsellors for youth to talk with in one-on-one consultations. Adolescents appreciate these kind of confidential talks, as they have many questions about their body changes, sexuality, HIV, and other STIs. They usually don’t want to share their insecurities openly.

A challenge from the organisation’s perspective is the shortage of CD4 count machines, causing a waiting period of three weeks to get test results. Everyone knows that young people are very impatient. For one moment they are there, the next moment they are gone. They don’t feel like waiting that long to receive their HIV test results.’

What is your dream for the future?

‘My dream would be to refurbish one of our centres into a centre fully dedicated to young people. With nurses and doctors who are trained in a youth-friendly approach and who are dedicated to support young people. On a big screen we will show educational movies, there will be a gym, a pool table, and computers to provide e-health education. And, of course, there will be a salon where girls can have their hair and nails done while awaiting the result of their HIV and STIs tests. My hope is to have a place where we provide facilities young people need and where they feel comfortable.’

The Access, Services and Knowledge (ASK) programme is a joint-initiative that aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people (15-24) by increasing young people’s uptake of sexual and reproductive health services.