How would you rate Nigerians’ awareness of sexual and reproductive health?
Nigerians’ awareness of their sexual and reproductive health and rights is very low. Young adults who lack sexual health knowledge grow to become older adults with the same problem. This cycle of silence, shame and stigma over sexual and reproductive health matters keeps repeating itself with each generation and only gets better by a small margin. We need new bolder solutions.
Which class of society is at higher risk due to a lack of awareness of sexual and reproductive health?
In Nigeria, one out of every five women has given birth by age 18 with 57 per cent beginning sexual activity before age 18. Data shows that 80 per cent of the patients admitted for abortion-related complications were young women and about 10 per cent of sexually active adolescents have had more than three abortions. NDHS 2018 shows that women with no education have twice as many children as women with more than secondary education (6/7 versus 3/4), similarly, women in poor households had more children than women in wealthier households (6/7 versus 3/4) and 57 per cent of women begin sexual activity before age 18.
What ill-health, bad situations could knowledge of sexual health help to avoid?
Knowledge of sexual health helps with the following: preventing unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion, preventing and treating sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract infections, managing menstrual health conditions, understanding basic genital hygiene, understanding fertility and Infertility and seeking appropriate treatments to mention a few.
How can the government contribute to awareness of sexual health?
The government has a lot of role to play in changing and improving how young people in Nigeria access information on sexual health care. The government should look into the current advertisement laws and regulations that prohibit the advertising or mentioning of condoms at daytime/peak hours on radio/TV. This will reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the country.
The use of more inclusive language; the word our government (and many others) use to describe pregnancy prevention methods is family planning and not the words “contraceptives or preventing pregnancy. Yet, the irony is that 50 per cent of the people who need to prevent pregnancy are young, unmarried and not planning a family anytime soon. What then is the point of communication that automatically excludes half of the people who need such services?
The government can help by creating sexual education and rights courses that can be taken either as a classroom or online elective subject by all senior secondary pupils and undergraduates.
Affordable sexual health screening and tests; the government can help by providing routine and affordable screening for STIs and cancer screening (cervical, breast and prostate) and health promotions that communicate a certain age to remind everyone to get such screening tests done.
Marriage and education laws; creating laws that prevent child marriage and ensure the minimum educational level in the country is secondary education, because educated men and women have the knowledge to make better life decisions including decisions about their sexual health.
In 2019, you were among the seven Nigerians who won the World Health Organisation health innovation award, what is the impact of this to sexual and reproductive health in Nigeria?
My innovation that was selected by WHO is called WHISPA-a mobile app that allows young people to privately access sexual and reproductive health information, products and services. At the time of the WHO innovators award, we were user testing WHISPA and officially launched to the public in April 2020. Since our launch we have been able to attend to over 2000 users and are set to transform the health technology space in Nigeria by offering private access to consult with a doctor about any intimate health issues, electronic contraceptive assessments that are modeled after WHO’s eligibility criteria and referrals to nearby hospitals for affordable contraceptive services. We also want to help reduce the rate of testing and awareness for HIV and Hepatitis B&C through sales of our ‘at home’ STD test kits.
What informs your decision to build WHISPA app, how does it function and what problems would it solve?
I founded WHISPA because of my personal experience with getting sexual health care information in Nigeria. When you are young and/or unmarried, the same people in your family, society who will scold you if you try to learn how to prevent pregnancy, will be the same people who will mock you and reject you if you get pregnant out of wedlock. For young women, getting pregnant when you are not ready can mar your life in ways that young men do not experience, likewise for many young men a lack of sexual health care knowledge has led to them having unsafe sex and complicating their health and future. Sex education in Nigeria is still in the ‘do not talk about it’ phase and what is available is abstinence-only sex-education, such that when it comes to the matter of sexual and reproductive health, so many young women and men end up making so many wrong decisions or going to the wrong sources for answers.
WHISPA intends to solve all these problems by using mobile technology to transform how young people seek their Sexual and Reproductive Health. We offer private access to consult with a doctor about any intimate health issue via our chat with a doctor feature, electronic contraceptive assessments that are modelled after WHO’s eligibility criteria and referrals to nearby hospitals for affordable contraceptive services. We also encourage HIV and Hepatitis virus testing through our ‘at home’ STD test kits. We also have many more services to offer in the near future like STD screening, cervical cancer screening, vaccinations and treatments.
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