• New HIV infections remain a great threat to young people's sexual health.
• Sexual health rights advocates say that young people respond better to their peers.
Sexual health rights groups are calling for increased peer involvement to help reduce HIV prevalence, teen pregnancies and sexual and gender-based violence.
They said adolescents are more likely to listen to and take seriously advice from their peers compared to guardians or healthcare providers.
“We do not understate the critical and essential role that parents play in the care and protection of their children. However, youth who engage in unsafe sexual practices often end up facing worse consequences of contracting HIV, getting pregnant and then resorting to unsafe backstreet abortions," Victor Rasugu said.
Rasungu is the Executive Director, Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA).
The group said many young people need to be equipped with the right information to support their peers and increase their awareness.
Social stigma and judgemental attitudes, they said, remain a major obstacle to young people accessing quality sexual and reproductive healthcare especially in rural areas and low-income communities.
“Even as we pump money into health facilities or lament the reduction of donor funding for HIV care, we will not be helping the situation if young people still feel afraid or stigmatised when visiting health facilities," Rasugu said.
He spoke on Friday during a training for HIV peer educators and support providers in Nairobi on Friday.
The training programme dubbed You(th) Care focuses on equipping young people in Nairobi and Homa Bay counties with the skills needed to promote and maintain their sexual and reproductive health.
The week-long training came days before the World Sexual Health Day commemorated every year on September 4.
New HIV infections remain a great threat to young people's sexual health across the country.
Health Principal Secretary Susan Mochache recently revealed that on average, at least 98 new HIV infections occur every week among adolescents aged 10-19 years.
About 5,288 AIDS deaths occur among children and youth every year while one out of every three mothers attending an antenatal clinic is an adolescent girl aged 10-19.
"We also know that 1 in 3 of our adolescent and young girls under 18 years have ever experienced some form of violence including sexual and gender-based violence,” Mochache said.
Mary Maina, a peer supporter from Kamukunji said that ignorance and stigma regarding sexual health is one big obstacle to young people accessing life-saving care from health providers.
“Before the introduction of the HIV self-test kits, many young people would wait until it is too late to get tested, because of the fear of judgment from service providers,” she said.
“One of my roles as a peer supporter is to act as the link between the youth and health providers," she added.
Mark Kamau, a youth advocate from Kasarani, said him and his friends had experienced challenges of stock-outs of contraception when visiting local facilities, which leaves many youth with no viable alternatives.
“We have also seen stock-outs of essential drugs like antiretrovirals at local health clinics," he said.
He said such shortages are dangerous and leave them at risk of the triple threat - HIV, pregnancies and GBV.
"Young people need to make themselves part of the conversation and talk about such things that affect us,” he said.