Rwanda: Students Welcome Move to Ease Teenage Access to Contraceptives

29 October 2019

"Once in the forest, I looked up at the black sky; it was too late. I hadn't intended to be out this late. The sun had set, and the empty road ahead had no streetlights.

Minutes passed, yet it seemed like hours and days. The further I travelled into the forest, the darker it seemed to get. Then surprisingly I... saw a lion. I began to whistle to take my mind off the noises I was hearing: one voice said hide, and the other said fight back".

This anology is an example given by Ange Umutoni, a student at the University of Rwanda, between using contraceptives or using education to combat teenage pregnancy.

She was talking during an inter-university debate that brought together students from 10 tertiary institutions which took place last Friday at the Kigali Independent University of (ULK) at Gisozi.

This last edition of the contest, backed by Health Development Initiative through the support of Amplify Change, aimed at increasing awareness and interest in youth's sexual and reproductive health in the country's academic circles.

The contest attracted students from the University of Rwanda (Huye, Remera and Rukara campuses), University of Lay Adventists of Kigali, INES-Ruhengeri, University of Kigali, Kigali Independent University, Akilah Institute, Mount Kenya University and the University of Kibungo.

"Educating and sensitising citizens has been done by government institutions and organisations like Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Imbuto Foundation, Health Development Initiative, Haguruka and others but they seemed not to be productive enough. So what is missing is giving young people access to contraceptives," said Mig Ndayishimiye, a student at the University of Rwanda.

According to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda, teenage pregnancies rose from 6.1 per cent in 2010 to 7.3 per cent in 2016.

At least 17, 337 cases and 19,382 cases of teenage pregnancies were reported in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

These statistics showed that several policies mostly related to sensitisation and education have not been productive enough.

The use of religion to combat the problem has also not paid off.

"We've preached the gospel but that gospel can't quench sexual activities," said Francoise Abimana, a scholar at the University of Rwanda, Remera Campus.

Do we have examples where this has worked?

In Switzerland, where Protestantism was regarded as the principal religion, sex education and contraception were available in most clinics from the 1970s.

It had a great impact from that time. Although unplanned adolescent pregnancy will never disappear, Swiss medical and social service providers emphasise on continuing to try and improve contraceptive prevalence and efficacy for adolescent females facing pregnancy crisis, said the debaters.

The United States has seen a decrease of teenage pregnancies from 86 per cent because adolescents were becoming effective contraceptive users, affirms Ntwarane Abbiel, a law scholar at the University of Rwanda, Huye Campus.

Though claims that contraceptives allegedly have side effects, recently Victorien Ndacyayisenga, a Gynaecologist at Hopital La Croix du Sud, dismissed them.

"All side effects of contraceptives are manageable and all the myths regarding the vice has been proved to have no evidence," asserted Dr Ndacyayisenga.

The Rwanda population is increasing and if no measures are put in place to control the growth, it will have doubled by 2030.

Dr Rukundo Athanase, The Programs Director at HDI said that debates are aimed at equipping students with skills and knowledge on reproductive health to help them prevent teenage pregnancies among their peers.

"It creates wide spaces for young people to discuss existing reproductive health issues and make informed arguments and opinions. Debates encourage active involvement and applying content in meaningful ways compared to just listening," said Rukundo.

The competition saw University of Rwanda (Huye campus) emerge the winning team and Abayo Divine and Kurama Pius as the best female and male debaters, respectively.

University of Rwanda, Huye Campus and Ines Ruhengeri were the first and second runner up respectively.

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