Helpline offer teens, youth access to SRHR services
The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted health systems around the world. In Kenya, it highlighted existing weaknesses, with an already marginalised group, women and girls were particularly impacted, especially concerning Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), due to closure or reduction in activities of service providers.
“The pandemic widened the gap on access to comprehensive health services, especially among adolescents and youth. Measures adopted by governments to reduce transmission of Covid-19 were a great threat to the provision of SRHR services,” says Boit Brenda, programmes manager, Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) .
It is against this background that the civil society organisation, formed to provide evidence-based information and quality comprehensive reproductive health services in Kenya, came up with a hotline to ensure adolescents and youth continue to access comprehensive health services.
The 24-hour toll-free number provides health solutions to save lives and improve health. Dubbed Nena na Binti, it aims at building young people’s confidence resulting in a healthy youthful generation with positive health-seeking behaviour.
“The hotline was launched in May 2020 when the pandemic had widened the gap on access to comprehensive health services, especially among adolescents and youth. Its main aim is to offer confidential, non-judgmental sexual, and reproductive health support and services with youth-friendly counsellors. Individuals can call 0800211227(toll-free) or text or WhatsApp 0775533117 to get help,” she said.
The organisation came up with this solution after a rapid e-survey among adolescents and youth that revealed that priority health interventions were more inclined to Covid-19 and emergency health services, leaving out other primarily needed services including family planning, antenatal care, and post-abortion care among others.
The initiative is confidential, free, and the services provided after speaking to counsellors are affordable. It also offers referrals and linkages in real-time.
“The name Nena na Binti is a Swahili word to imply that the respondent behind the hotline is a friend, easy and non-judgmental, and one who will ensure that your health issues will remain confidential. Just like how society has perceived finding a confidant in someone who understands you regardless of gender or age,” Boit says.
She adds that the hotline has a database of all their network providers and its engagement model uses a very simple language their clients are most comfortable with, including Sheng, intending to understand their health issues and finding the most comfortable space for communication for addressing their health issues including provision of related information.
After tele-counselling by the counsellor, a client is given an option of referral to the nearest healthcare provider or the hotline sends prescribed medication through a trusted rider or send a provider to a client’s residence for individualised health interventions, depending on the health issue.
“Our hotline operation is simple and easy. Our client point of contact is either through offline-community sensitisation activities or online through social media including live organisational conversations using the same platforms. That’s where they directly reach us or are referred to the hotline from our community providers and youth advocates as well as other hotline beneficiaries.”
How is the uptake of the solution?
Boit says that with the increasing use of technology especially by young people, most of them have embraced the use of telehealth. As of November 2021, the hotline had served 6,021 youths with a wide range of SRHR services including providing health interventions to survivors of rape, female genital mutilation, as well as those seeking comprehensive abortion care including post-abortion care, contraception, and family planning.
Although the uptake is slow, its usage is consistently gaining trust. An increase in service demand has proportionately increased demand for correspondents behind the call, which has some financial implications.
However, in as much as all this demand has financial implications and the organisation is donor-dependent, Brenda reveals that RHNK continues to develop internal mechanisms to ensure service uptake is continuous, consistent and all persons calling get the attention, care, and referrals they deserve as a human rights need.
“The key issues faced by the youthful population are limited access to non-judgmental services and facilities, accommodative health providers, essential health services and commodities, and the cost of basic SRHR services. This is why we have come up with this solution to serve the youthful population as well as women so they can achieve their full health potential,” she says in conclusion