Bring back 'responsible sex' mass media campaigns

Effective healthcare communication help prevent poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes. [iStockphoto]

It is high time we reintroduce nationwide mass media campaigns that focus on safe sex and reproductive health. Recent research reports, including the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022, have highlighted the alarming rates of adolescent pregnancies and the increasing HIV infections among young men and women.

These issues pose not only economic challenges but also grave public health concerns. Unfortunately, despite the alarming and escalating numbers, Kenyans seem to have grown indifferent to the harsh realities of reproductive health.

The constant dissemination of these statistics through different media platforms has reduced our poor reproductive health outcomes to mere figures. Therefore, it is time to shift focus towards the stories and faces behind these numbers, particularly since Kenya's youth population is disproportionately affected. We must adopt a fresh approach that goes beyond the shock value of alarming statistics.

Various stakeholders such as humanitarian organisations, civil society organisations (CSOs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and community-based organisations (CBOs), have made considerable efforts to address this problem and raise awareness about it.

They have worked collaboratively with government agencies despite challenges such as limited resources, inadequate information, media sensationalism of reproductive health issues, and the spread of misinformation and disinformation both offline and online. Communication barriers and the moralisation and politicisation of sexual and reproductive health have been two primary obstacles to progress.

Moreover, opposition from religious institutions and conservative parties has further complicated efforts to ensure positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

One of the key strategies to improve reproductive health outcomes is to increase the dissemination of comprehensive and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health among sexually active individuals. In the past, safe sex campaigns and visual advertisements promoting condom use played a critical role in influencing behaviour change. Health communicators and NGOs have utilised visual campaigns in mass media to promote and foster positive sexual health outcomes, including abstinence, condom use, reduction of sexual partners, and monogamy.

Campaigns such as Nimechill, which ran in 2004 and 2010, advocated for abstinence, while Wacha Mpango Wa Kando campaign discouraged multiple sexual partners and encouraged monogamy. The Je Una Yako? Trust Condom campaigns effectively utilised peer pressure to promote consistent condom use, and Chanukeni Pamoja campaign encouraged Kenyans to get tested for HIV/Aids. These campaigns yielded significant results in promoting responsible sexual behaviour among Kenyans because they effectively depicted the reality of the sexual and reproductive choices faced by young people.

Considering the alarming statistics surrounding adolescent pregnancies and new HIV infections, there is an urgent need for effective healthcare communication that shares accurate and factual information to help prevent poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

The writer is Digital Communication Officer at ELF-Africa