Where everyone finds safe, respectful health care
What do you call a private space staffed by dedicated young volunteers where youth can come for counseling and referrals for sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion? A “youth-friendly corner,” naturally. And within clinics across Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, these specially tailored spaces are making a real difference.
Serving a low-income Lusaka community, Matero Reference Health Center is one clinic that hosts a youth-friendly corner. Young people struggle to access sexual and reproductive health care due to stigma, lack of information, and a cultural belief that adults should not talk to young people about sex. Before Ipas began supporting youth-friendly services at the center in 2012, young people who sought abortion services at the main registration desk were often shamed or turned away.
Now special posters across the community (see photo above right) direct young people to visit the health center’s youth-friendly corner, where they can speak with peers who are trained to counsel and refer clients for services as needed. No one is ever judged or turned away. Working to ensure young people can easily access services, Ipas collaborates with Zambia’s Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Health to support and revitalize a network of youth-friendly corners at health centers in Lusaka, as well as in other parts of the country.
Ipas also partners with youth-led and youth-serving organizations that help educate communities about the dangers of unsafe abortion and how young people can access safe, youth-friendly services. Our partner Africa Directions, for instance, uses exciting dance and drama performances to raise awareness.
It’s really helping,” says long-time volunteer Martha Liswaniso, age 25. “I’m seeing change. Those young people who never used to have time are now coming to the clinic, have information and are using the services.”
Almost half of all young people referred for sexual and reproductive health services at the Lusaka facilities Ipas supports are now referred by youth-friendly corner volunteers or community volunteers trained as part of this project. And the many young people who receive counseling and referrals aren’t the only ones benefiting; youth volunteers also report great satisfaction and reward from the hours they invest.
I have built confidence in myself,” says Judith Musonda, who has served as a youth-friendly corner volunteer for nine years. “I can educate people; I can counsel someone. Those things have changed me and my life a lot.”
A WARM WELCOME
Young people seeking health-care services like contraception and safe abortion often face judgmental, disapproving attitudes from providers and health center staff—caused by stigma surrounding youth sexuality and abortion. Ipas’s youth partners identified the need for a separate, private registration area for young people at each health center offering youth-friendly services.
Whereas before youth faced scorn from adults at main registration desks, now they receive a warm greeting from caring volunteers their own age at youth-friendly corners (like the one above right at Lusaka’s Chelstone Clinic).
PRIVACY IS CRUCIAL
Many young people seeking services like contraception or safe abortion fear they will face rejection or derision if recognized at the local health center by adult family or community members. Privacy is therefore essential.
Each youth-friendly corner is a private space set apart from the rest of the health facility where young people can freely come and go without worrying about adult interactions. At Kabwata Health Center, a busy facility that serves part of the city with a large youth population, there was no private space available indoors—so a group of youth and staff working together to establish youth-centered services there got creative. They purchased a large canvas tent and placed it near the clinic entrance; it now serves as a popular youth-friendly corner (see photo below).
SUPPORTIVE HEALTH PROVIDERS
Adults need to hear directly from youth about the specific challenges they face in accessing sexual and reproductive health care. That’s why Ipas’s youth-centered approach engages youth as equal partners with providers and health center staff to ensure the intergenerational discussions that are critical to change adults’ stigmatizing attitudes and end discriminatory practices.
Every health center with a youth-friendly corner also has a health provider on staff who has received training in comprehensive abortion care for young women, and these providers become powerful advocates for youth sexual and reproductive rights—and often promote youth leadership on health issues within the community.
Learn more about how Ipas established our youth-friendly services program—and see recommendations for those who work in youth-focused health care.
Working with youth is important because if we deny them this service which is safe, we end up losing more of them to unsafe abortion.”Nurse, midwife, Ipas-trained abortion provider
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