The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that disabled people make up 10 percent of the world’s population estimated at 650 million people and 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries. According to data of the 2002 national census, 4 percent of the population was classified as being disabled in Uganda. However, the Uganda Demographic and Household Surveys (UDHS) of 2006 and 2011 put the numbers at 7 percent and 16 percent respectively.
Many adolescents in Uganda face enormous challenges in their bid to access to access Sexual and Reproductive health care services and among the groups that face severe barriers are those with disabilities. Information remains limited, but recent studies indicate that young people with disabilities experience both health disparities and specific problems in gaining access to appropriate health care, including health promotion and disease prevention programs and services. They also frequently lack either health insurance or coverage for necessary services such as specialty care, long-term care, care coordination, prescribed medications, durable medical equipment, and assistive technologies.
Young Women with disabilities are recognized as being the most disadvantaged category, experiencing exclusion on account of their gender and their disability. On top of that, the health facilities and equipments in Uganda remain to be outdated and minimal in number. The number of health workers and rehabilitation officers in lower health centers such as health centers III and IV is almost minimal and little attention given to cases of disability and yet many of these health centers are located far away from homes of young people with Disabilities and the mobility of such persons is a mere myth.
Despite the existence of laws and policies such as the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities which Uganda ratified, the constitution of the republic of Uganda, elimination of all forms of discrimination against PWDS, the disability act 2007, equalization of opportunities, among others, youth with Disabilities in Uganda have continued to enjoy their rights to sexual and Reproductive Health care services in the dark.
While Uganda has a number of policies demanding for inclusion of PWDs in sexual and reproductive health services (SRHs), the government has not ensured that these policies are implemented in the communities by health workers in health centers who look at them as aliens when they demand for contraceptives or seek maternal health services. The government also lacks the commitment to translate these policies into action. Many mentally handicapped adolescent girls for instance are reported to be sexually abused because of local and traditional beliefs in some communities. The understanding is that if one has sex with a mentally handicapped person, all his/her problems will be solved. Yet this leaves some of them pregnant with no fathers to take care of their babies.
In light of this, if Uganda is to achieve the 5th Millennium Development Goal that aims at improving maternal health by reducing maternal deaths by three-quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health, there is an urgent need to investigate the specific challenges faced by youths with disabilities in accessing sexual and reproductive health services in the country because data on this subject remains limited. Research should be carried out by Government and other Key partners including UNFPA Uganda and Straight talk foundation on sexual and Reproductive health care services with particular emphasis on young people with Disabilities to ascertain their specific sexual and Reproductive health care needs. Similarly, adolescents with Disabilities should be involved in the program design, planning and implementation and fully consulted in all efforts geared towards Collecting and documenting baseline information with regard to providing youth health friendly services. Lastly, Health personnel should be trained in order to identify specific needs of PWDs at key health service delivery points including at all youth corners in hospitals countrywide.
By Kaviri Ali
Ali is a youth leader