• July 17th, 2019
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Media and SRHR: A Namibian perspective

The media can play a crucial role in promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHRs) in Namibia because of its various functions, which include providing a link between government and the people, watchdog, setting the agenda and influencing public opinion. 

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. 

“It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. To maintain one’s sexual reproductive health, people need access to accurate information and the safe, effective, affordable and acceptable contraception methods of their choice.”

It is a well-known reality that teenage pregnancy in Namibia remains a major concern and alarming statistics from the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture shows that annually; at least 1800 teenage girls countrywide fall pregnant. This means that these teenage girls have to drop out of school temporarily to give birth. 

However, thanks to the revised education policy “learner parents” can go back to school and complete their education. This way, a girl child who falls pregnant while in school can still have a bright future as opposed to when they do not return to school. In the long run, the country gets to harness demographic dividend. 

However, chances remain that some children do not go back to school to complete their education when they fall pregnant and I would like to believe that this is worse in rural areas, where young girls have fewer role models to look up to. Some people might not even be aware that the education policy makes provision for “learner parents” to complete their education.

Furthermore, HIV/AIDS remains high in Namibia. The good news is we are doing very well in fighting the disease because we are now nearing epidemic control, as the recently released preliminary Namibia Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (NAMPHIA) results indicate. This is why Namibia was recognised at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in July. 

However, the statistics also show that Namibia cannot relax in its efforts to fight HIV/AIDS because women remain at risk of contracting the virus. In fact, the NAMPHIA preliminary results show a 15.7 percent HIV prevalence among women compared to 9.3 among men. 

NAMPHIA results also highlight that women in Namibia between the ages of 20 and 24 are two to three times more likely to be HIV positive than men of the same age. Also, data shows that fewer men aged 15-25 are getting tested for HIV. 
The pregnancy statistics that I alluded to are enough to suggest that young girls are having unprotected sex, and sometimes with older men. 

The fact that UNFPA now has a ‘Condomise’ campaign targeted at young people specifically is also evidence that young people are engaging in unprotected sex. 

This is a concern, especially because young people not only risk contracting HIV but also other sexually transmitted illnesses. And, they end up with unplanned pregnancies. The media can thus play a crucial role in advocating for issues of SRHRs by telling these stories. 

SRHRs issues, including HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy are development issues. I’m saying this because if teenage girls are getting pregnant at the rate that we are seeing currently (1800 annually), it means that they get to miss out on their education, they are left behind by their peers (in terms of education) and sometimes, it is not necessarily easy for all of them to return to school as young mothers. 

Also, people continue to be infected with HIV every day in Namibia and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has a roadmap to see a reduction of new HIV infections by 75 percent by 2020. The Namibian government is spending a lot of money on antiretroviral drugs and if more people continue to be infected with HIV, it means more money goes towards buying these lifesaving drugs. In the long run, HIV prevention programmes and interventions are much cheaper than putting people on these lifelong drugs.  

This is why journalists, especially those who are passionate about development and health issues have a role to play by not just reporting on events and press releases on SRHRs but also contextualising the statistics and putting a human face to the stories. How we present a story determines the impact it will have on the consumers (readers, viewers and listeners). 

Reporting on issues of SRHRs does not have to be boring simply because these are development issues and there are so many angles to explore. The issues can range from how difficult or easy it is for young people to access contraception services at health facilities, the statistics of contraception access (and contextualising) or simply how young people perceive health facilities and their views on contraceptives. 

These views coupled with the facts from officials can have impact on readers (or listeners/viewers). PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) as an intervention in HIV can be explored in depth other than just reporting on the fact that it is available in health facilities. Apart from talking to people who are on PrEP to share their experience, other angles could be explored by talking to health professionals such as why it cannot at this stage be availed to the wider population. 

The issue of key populations including the LGBTI community, sex workers, men who have sex with men can also be explored from various angles. These are just some of the examples, but I believe the field is broad and can be explored.
Having said that, I also want to mention that sometimes journalists struggle to get information and if officials who consider themselves our “partners” do not readily avail statistics or information when asked by journalists, then the journalist rely on the information they have. 

For us to give out credible information that will help the public to make informed choices, the partners should be willing to provide the information and answer to hard questions when required.

In conclusion, the media can promote SRHRs in Namibia by cultivating a habit of producing multi-sourced news reports, as this makes the story more credible and balanced. Also, we should be creative in the way we report because sometimes just giving information and statistics is not enough as numbers and merely reporting on issues may not mean so much to some people, if not contextualised. 

In the final analysis, putting a human face to the stories we produce is one way to promote SRHRs in Namibia because people like stories that they can relate to. This has far more impact than merely giving out information. 
Alvine Kapitako is a senior journalist on the New Era health and feature desk. The views are her own. 

Alvine Kapitako
2018-08-24 10:15:08 10 months ago

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