Legislators under the Parliamentarian’s Network for Population and Development (RPRPD) are seeking more access to reproductive health and family planning services after their tour of the country to assess the situation.
They said during a consultative meeting last week in the Lower House of Parliament that lack of awareness about reproductive health among many Rwandans, especially the youth, and lack of access to contraceptive means such as condoms and pills has led to unwanted pregnancies.
According to the most recent Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey 2014/2015, teenage pregnancies between the age of 15 and 19 was at 7.3 per cent while the same survey suggested that only 53 per cent of married women use contraceptive methods.
Senator Richard Sezibera, a member of RPRPD who presented the MPs’ report for a national tour conducted in 27 districts in November 2016 and February 2017, said that a lot still needed to be done to achieve the country’s goals on reproductive health.
“What was clear to members of the forum is that from 2000 to 2015 many goals of reproductive health were not achieved and we still have a long way to achieve them,” said Sezibera who also once served as health minister.
Among other gaps, the senator said, was lack of didactic materials on reproductive health in schools and lack of reproductive health programmes in many districts.
“Youth-friendly centres are still few and there is generally one centre in every district, which is not enough,” he said.
He added that some health posts don’t have enough equipment and tools for family planning, especially those owned by religious organisations.
The MPs recommended all institutions in the country, especially the government and non-governmental organisations, to continuously share ideas and means that can increase efforts for youth family planning and reproductive health for all.
The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, said the key to solving the issue of access to contraceptives lies in increasing health posts in the country and said that the government has a plan to set up a health post in every cell.
“If we can have a health post in every cell it will help the population get access to reproductive health services from nearby health posts,” she said.
She also said that the government was working very closely with the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) to ensure that it facilitates access to reproductive health services at health posts.
Other measures include sensitising parents who give birth in hospitals about family planning methods and ensure that they make decisions about them before leaving hospitals and increasing awareness about family planning before distributing anti-malnutrition fortified food to mothers.
The minister also said that a major challenge was unwanted pregnancies among underage girls.
“We should be teaching these young people about reproductive health because they have dared to have sex at their age,” she said.
Gashumba said that awareness about reproductive health will also be increased across the country through outreach programmes to citizens and sensitisation among religious leaders to embrace the agenda.
“We have realised that whenever we carry out reproductive health campaigns people get attracted to them and we want to increase these efforts,” she said.
At the meeting, many MPs urged the government to set up more youth-friendly centres to help young people learn about their reproductive health and also sensitise parents about the need to send their children to the centres.
MP Thacienne Mukandamage urged the government to raise awareness campaigns about reproductive health and get the private sector like shop owners more involved in the distribution of condoms.
MP Petronille Mukandekezi said that the future should be in setting up youth-friendly centres where parents can send their boys and girls for proper sex education.
“Youth corners would be a great programme and I think the youth would like it but the question is whether some parents will allow their children to go to the centres. I think parents should be sensitised so they can understand that sending their children to the centres is about preparing for them a good future,” she said.
Under its five-year plan of activities from 2013 to 2018, RPRPD has aimed to build capacities for leaders, starting with the legislators themselves and then move to help local officials and school leaders as the legislators work to push for policy changes at national level to allow more accessible reproductive health and family planning services.