Background: In Kenya young people — including students of university age — are particularly at risk from unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence and coercion, harmful cultural practices that adversely impact their health (such as female genital cutting), and sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. These issues are often not openly discussed leading to young people having no access to information on how to protect themselves.
To help to tackle some of these issues, Pathfinder’s work in Kenya since 1998 has included a university-based integrated reproductive health and peer counselling project at three public universities: Egerton University, Kenyatta University, and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
What did the programme involve: Pathfinder’s university-based program initially addressed the social, reproductive health, and informational needs of young people through the recruitment and training of a network of university-based peer counsellors, drawn from both students and faculty.
Throughout the life of the program, Pathfinder provided financial and technical assistance to enhance university service delivery by strengthening and promoting clinic-based, peer counselling and community outreach interventions.
Since mid-2014, Pathfinder International (PI) has developed a mobile application to mobilize and advocate for increased uptake of youth friendly services (YFS) at Kenyatta University by students (population 63,500). This action was triggered by findings of an assessment conducted by PI KCO, which indicated that only 20% of the total population in need of adolescent and youth sexual reproductive health services accessed and utilized services on campus — despite the efforts made by youth peer educators, university counsellors and the existence of a student-dedicated health unit offering YFS on campus.
Why this approach: Mobile phone usage is high amongst university students so PI field staff hypothesized that digitizing the peer educators on campus was the way forward. The easily accessible digital platform informs youth on campus about sexual and reproductive health rights and mobilizes students to take preventive action including booking of medical and counselling appointments.
Results observed: This project is relatively new and ongoing but student-driven content on the mobile phone app has proved popular and has been driven by Kenyatta University students (i.e. peer educators and counsellors) with funding from APHIAplus.
By mid-2016 PI KCO, envisage that the application will result in an uptake in the following areas:
• voluntary use of Long Acting Reversible Contraception by students; uptake of post abortion care service;
• infant care (for students who have delivered babies); utilization of post rape services and increase in the
• number of student support groups and number of peer counselors. The process will lead to the wider launch of the application (http://electrodyn.net/aphia/) in Kenya.
Lessons learnt: Although still relatively new it is possible to draw some lessons from the project. First, the application offers confidentiality — whilst booking an appointment for example. Therefore students, especially those suffering from STIs and HIV/AIDS are not embarrassed to seek medical help.
Second, the programme is limited however, as it is only accessible to those with a smartphone. Developers are currently considering whether an electronic link would be a better option to replace the app or run alongside it. This would allow services to be accessed from a computer as well as a phone.
(Source: Bill Okaka, Communication for Development specialist, Nairobi)