Nigeria and Universal Health Coverage: My Stand As a Young Woman

August 29, 2019 
Health is the foundation for people, communities and economies to reach their full potentials,  for women and girls to reach their full potentials. Universal health coverage (UHC) is primarily the responsibility of governments, which ensure people’s health as a social contract. Achieving UHC is essential for inclusive development, prosperity and fairness, and requires political decisions that go beyond the health sector.

I am writing from the point of view of a young woman who have through my work with Vision Spring Initiatives experienced first-hand the various challenges young people navigate in their quest for comprehensive sexuality education to enable them make informed choices.  Women and girls in Nigeria are vulnerable to a wide range of health issues as their Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights are infringed upon. Sexual and reproductive health is a guaranteed right that has unfortunately faced challenges due to its lack of consideration as a human right in Nigeria. Access to contraceptive devices and other health care facilities exclude young people as government has not invested in this area. Evidence shows that gender equality and women’s rights are critical drivers of health, wellbeing, and socio-economic development, and that gender-responsive health services- in particular SRHR interventions- are health promoters, preventive and cost effective.  

As part of efforts geared towards advancing the cause of Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria, the Nigerian lawmakers have taken a giant step by establishing a Legislative Network for UHC. This is a vital tool for harnessing and aligning statutory functions of the legislators towards achieving UHC goal in Nigeria. However, almost 50 million people aged 10-24 in Nigeria face many challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services; the prevalence of contraceptive use is low and unplanned pregnancies tend to result in abortions which are unsafe due to regressive abortion laws.

In spite of the National Agency for the Control of AIDS estimating that 60% of new HIV infections occur amongst young people and a high sexually transmitted infection (STI)) prevalence rate of 40%, advocacy on youth sexual and reproductive health and rights issues in Nigeria is generally weak and youth participation is low. Most young people lack the skills and knowledge to engage with lawmakers on issues that affect their sexual health and rights at the national and state level.
This is a crucial time and the government need to work with stakeholders at all levels to support strong language on SRHR in September. Thereafter it should implement policies that ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; upholding the inclusion of women and girls and marginalised groups. The UN High level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage provides that opportunity!

Before we can achieve a substantial result on Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria, young people need to be included in the Sexual and Reproductive Health policy drafting or law-making processes. Inclusion of youth, women and marginalised groups is important in advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights in Nigeria. I stand with all young people to demand adoption of policies that prioritize SRHR needs of young women like me.

By: Ayodele Oluwatobi
Program Officer, Vision Spring Initiatives

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