Involve stakeholders in implementing reproductive health policy

Kenya's teen pregnancy was the third-highest in the world in 2019. [iStockphoto]

When Kenya launched its reproductive health policy two weeks ago, many of us in sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) advocacy were elated that finally the country was ready to take the bull by its horns.

It is a commendable step towards addressing SRHR issues such as the runaway unwanted and teenage pregnancies that we, a society, seem to have become accustomed to. These unwanted pregnancies have often led women and girls to seek backstreet abortion services because our society still frowns upon proper abortion and post-abortion care.

According to the Global Childhood Report, Kenya's teen pregnancy was the third-highest in the world in 2019. Meanwhile, a staggering 20,000 girls in the country seek care for abortion-related complications every year.

The result of these backstreet abortion services is that some of these women live with the scars for the rest of their lives while others do not live to tell the story. The World Health Organisation reports that each year in Kenya, over 3,000 women die of unsafe abortion-related complications and half a million more suffer short and long-term morbidities.

One of the gaps in the new reproductive health policy is that it does not address adequately the availability and provision of a wide range of contraceptives in public health facilities. A wide range of contraceptives gives sexually active women and girls options that work for each of them in preventing unwanted pregnancies and saving lives.

According to World Population Data Sheet, 2021, up to 14 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in low- and middle-income countries like Kenya would like to prevent, delay or avoid pregnancy, yet they are not using any form of contraception.

All these grim statistics and more spell out a clear and urgent call on stakeholders to step in and work together in addressing the gaps, even as they implement the policy. For instance, decision-makers in government, private sector and academia can, through innovation, develop solutions for the set up, financing and public engagement around safe shelters for victims of Gender Based Violence, teenage pregnancies and universal access to sanitary towels for women and girls.

One such important stakeholder is Planned Parenthood Global (PP Global), which works with partner organisations in sub-Saharan African and Latin American countries to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in partner countries. In 2017, PP Global launched the IDEA Initiative in Latin America to catalyse innovation and application of new approaches to create real and permanent solutions so that millions of people in the region can make their own decisions about their bodies, lives and future.

This month, the IDEA Initiative pilot was launched in Africa to motivate nontraditional sexual and reproductive health actors, including entrepreneurs, tech, media and communications, and creatives to come up with solutions for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In Kenya, PP Global will partner with Nailab, a virtual platform that provides startup entrepreneurs with technology, knowledge and funding to solve everyday problems. In this partnership, Nailab will provide incubation support to the IDEA Initiative with the goal of nurturing innovators to develop workable solutions for SRHR challenges. The initiative was also launched in Uganda and Burkina Faso and will enable stakeholders to engage in cross border conversations and partnerships for adolescents who often are left to carry the scars of shame and guilt instead of finding guidance and workable health services to inform their decisions.

While it is laudable that the reproductive health policy aims to increase budgetary allocation for provision of reproductive health information and services at national, county and community levels, it is important not to forget the crucial role stakeholder engagement in ensuring the successful implementation of the policy.