Re!gnite Africa is compiling case studies on how some Covid-19 related Presidential Orders affected the livelihood and wellbeing of young people in Uganda. It will be a 10-part series shared weekly.
It is challenging to assess the full extent of the impact of the ban on all forms of transportation to youth’s health and wellbeing for various reasons. One key reason is the lack of data or tracking systems to capture the depth and breadth of youth experiences throughout the season since the outbreak of the epidemic in Uganda on March 28th. This case compiles an analytical overview of this impact on youth’s sexual and reproductive, mental, and maternal and newborn health. Below, we explore these highlights;
Maternal and newborn health
Gloria Nakazzi narrates a story of how her big sister went into labor without any medical assistance, and instead had a stillbirth. With their mother stranded upcountry due to the ban on transportation, Gloria and her two younger brothers found themselves alone with their heavily pregnant sister who needed antenatal care. Earlier, on the day she went into labor, they had tried to secure a travel permit from the LC1 chairperson but failed because he was not convinced that she urgently needed medical attention. When she went into labor later that evening, no amount of shouting for help from neighbors and running around to find a nurse to help, could save her sister’s baby. Gloria says that her sister went into acute depression immediately after this incident, and her little brothers are yet to recover from the trauma of watching their sister give birth. You can read more of the story here.
Her story is just one of many that illustrates how young people have been uniquely and deeply impacted by effects of the ban on public transport. Many are young mothers, fathers, or siblings to some who lost their lives or that of their babies because of the ban on transportation. When this ban took effect, many cases of maternal deaths (over 10 reported in the media) and an uncounted number of stillbirths were reported and covered by media. Civil society organizations were vocal about the plight of especially expecting women, youth, and pregnant teenagers because of the lockdown. They petitioned government to nullify the ban or modify it to cater for the needs of women and young people who needed critical health services and information because their lives depended on.
Sexual and reproductive health
Statistics indicate that youth make up more than 75% of the population in Uganda. Therefore, they should be involved, engaged, and represented in every sphere of life that directly affects them. When the coronavirus was declared a pandemic worldwide, many governments and institutions went into an emergency; trying to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease. However, while dealing with this, other health challenges countries such as Uganda grapple with daily were not catered for. Many, including youth who commute daily to health centers to get ARVs and other medications, could not easily get access to the medical supplies and services they needed that season. Youth contended with unique sexual and reproductive health challenges that season, and these included the following;
- Finding themselves trapped in abusive relationships because many are looking for ways to survive because of losing jobs to the ban on transportation.
- Many young girls and boys staying in homes and communities where they are vulnerable to sexual abuse from adults – relatives – entrusted with the responsibility to take care of them
- Many in need of sexual and reproductive health information and services, such as those living with HIV/AIDs, failing to access them due to a lack of emergence transportation to cater for those in need of these services daily.
- Defilement, teenage pregnancies, and forced marriages for especially young people living in poverty and with parents who do not value education. Media reports demonstrate an increase in the number of teenage pregnancies this season. For example, Human Rights Focus Uganda revealed that ‘’a total of 4,062 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded in six out of eight districts in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda, within five months of the pandemic(Kwezi, 2020).’’
- Many service providers, including health centers in villages, were forced to shut down because workers could not afford to come to work anymore due to the ban on transportation and movement from one place to another
In regards to mental health, the outbreak of the coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown exposed young people to a new dilemma of having to deal with mental health challenges of; not going to school especially for candidates and those in their final years, losing jobs or working at half capacity, violence in the home and communities fear of the unknown and of catching the virus, to mention but a few. These challenges spiked anxiety and stress levels for most young people, leading many into depression and causing many to turn to unhealthy ways of coping. For example, in a report released by YouLead Summit among 450 East African youth revealed that 59% of the young people who participated in the survey had lost jobs. Other similar surveys, including one we conducted at the beginning of the lockdown, indicated that many youths were resorting to using drugs, self-harm, and other harmful habits to deal with the different mental health struggles many were dealing with at the time.
We should all learn from what went wrong in the middle of this crisis and commit to doing better for the betterment of young people’s health and wellbeing. The government of Uganda should always ensure that the needs and desires of young people take center stage in their planning and execution. This step and engagement of young people not only creates shared responsibility but also encourages innovation and collaboration from various stakeholders focused on addressing the needs of young people.
Compiled by Rachel, Gloria, and Allan.
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