By Sharon Atieno (ScienceAfrica Correspondent)

The Kenyan constitution advocates for the right of every person to get the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care yet inaccessibility to information and services on sexual reproductive health (SRH) is among the key reasons why there is a high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, early pregnancies and abortions among Kenyan youths.

Kenya’s adolescent birth rate is 96 per 1,000 women. 15 percent of all adolescent women have already given birth, and 3 percent are pregnant with their first child, indicates Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014.

Despite teen pregnancy rate remaining unchanged at 18 percent from 2009-2014; the cases of teenage pregnancies have remained a menace. The reality of teen pregnancies usually kicks in during national ek8xams for secondary and primary students. This year for instance, Kitui County has reported 110 pregnant students with 72 being expectant and 38 giving birth on the eve of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam.

According to newly released report by Guttmacher Institute in the US, 36 million young women aged 15–19 in developing regions are sexually active and want to avoid pregnancy, but most are not using modern contraceptives.

The report also notes that roughly half of the 9.6 million pregnancies among this group each year are unintended, and about half of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion – most of which are unsafe.

A 2013 study by African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and other partners conducted on the incidence and magnitude of abortions showed that girls below the age of 19 accounted for 17 percent of all women seeking post-abortion care services and about 45 percent of all severe abortion-related admissions in Kenyan hospitals in 2012.

The health burden of adolescents not having access to SRH services and information is not just the risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases but also pregnancy-related complications. With a 2014 World Health Organization report indicating that, complications during pregnancy are the second cause of death for 15 to 19 year-old girls globally.

Most of the teenagers rely on SRH information from their peers and find it hard to consult with adults in such matters due to fear of being seen as immoral or incurring wrath and admonition from their parents and older members of the society. In most instances, topics revolving around sex are considered a taboo; hence, they are left to figure it out for themselves.

Most of the information that adolescents share amongst each other is often misleading as even the informant might have gotten misleading information from the internet, television programmes or overheard it somewhere without clearly authenticating it.

“Investing in sexual and reproductive health care that meets adolescents’ needs is critical to ensuring young people are able to make voluntary and informed choices regarding contraception and relationships,” said Dr. Ann Biddlecom, Director of International Research at the Guttmacher Institute. “Young women and men must have access to youth-friendly contraceptive services that include the provision of a wide range of method options, as well as medically accurate counseling and information.”

Furthermore, a 2013 reproductive health research by Chandra-Mouli V and others indicates that lack of reproductive healthcare services for adolescents particularly a lack of contraceptive education and affordable, available contraceptive commodities means contraceptive use among married and unmarried adolescents is generally low in developing regions.

The government has been making strides in ensuring that SRH information and services are accessible and available to most adolescents including the introduction of the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (ASRH) policy 2015. It advocates for increased access to ASRH information and age appropriate comprehensive sexuality education for in-school and out of school adolescents.

The government has also implemented several initiatives for adolescents aimed at making them access SRH information and services such as Kenya Adolescent Reproductive Health Program (KARHP) Tuko Pamoja, Adolescent Reproductive Health (ARH) project with APHIA II Nairobi/Central ,Youth for Youth Maanisha Project Towards a holistic Response to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Kenyan Secondary Schools and NimeChill Campaign to Promote Abstinence among Urban Youth 10-14 Years among others .

The onus is not just on the government but also parents, teachers and religious leaders  to ensure that their adolescents can get access to SRH information and services which will make them plan better for their lives and avoid making reckless decisions which will have a lasting negative impact. (icfp2018@globalhealthstrategies.com