COVID could reverse gains made in access to SRHR services

COVID could reverse gains made in access to SRHR services

Date: May 1, 2020
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Lusaka, 30 April: Tough as life may have been to her, Nsofwa Petronella Sampa, has bigger dreams in life.

At two, she lost her dad, eight years later, at 10, her mum passed on too. However, the families of both the mother and father have been too instrumental in her life to see her get to 25 years old this year.

Sampa, is the only child from her biological mother and father who did know she was born HIV positive. She explains that life had been so hard for her especially when she got ill, admitted in hospital for months, and lost her sight.

“During the same period I was sick, I had self-stigma. I later had TB (tuberculosis) and was then attacked by meningitis. That’s how I lost my sight due to non-adherence to treatment caused by self-stigma,” she narrates.

She says after losing her sight due to her suffering from TB, meningitis compounded with HIV and medication defaulting due to self-denial, she managed to pull through after accepting the status quo.

Today, Sampa is completely blind but that has not made her any different from everyone in need of  access to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights services such as . So, even in the presence of COVID, she faces it as everyone else does, except for some instances where she feels more vulnerable because of her disability.

Zambia, is currently under a partial shutdown and tightened measures to fight Covid 19 have been put in place by the Government like mandatory wearing of face masks in public, washing hands or sanitizing regularly, closure of all social places like bars, sporting among others.

“I had to wash my hands at every shop in entered. But I also had to endure some acts that are totally unfriendly to persons with disabilities like I am,” she notes.

Among other measures being enforced in the country is maintaining of Social distance and no handshakes which she feels for people like her, the disabled, does not exist. She hence feels more susceptible to contracting the deadly virus that came from the City of Wuhan, Hubei Province in China.

“When it comes to social distancing being talked about, that doesn’t exist with us. Those of us that are blind, we normally hold our guides as we walk. So, I don’t know how social distancing would work,” Sampa explains.

But what does it mean for her and other young people to access SRHR services in this current status where restrictions have been placed on a number of services in the country including at health facilities? The 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow responds noting some of the major impediments faced.

“Some facilities are not allowing everyone to go in. Even safe spaces for young people where they access SRHR services  are closed due to ‘Stay Home’ emphasis by authorities. So some facilities would obviously tell young people to go and access, for example condoms, at Pharmacies where they have to buy them,” Sampa says.

She adds that for a young person who may not have money to buy condoms from a pharmacy and because they know they always get them for free at some centres, it will be difficult, hence may end up not using condoms in their sexual activities.

Nsofwa, who runs an organisation she formed, The Positive Movement, states that some of the restriction measures proves limiting to young people and can be cumbersome because not every young person is comfortable to undergo stressing moments just to access condoms, in those facilities that have them.

The Zambian Government has suspended various services from being undertaken in some facilities.

One such is the country’s biggest health facility, the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) that has suspended all scheduled medical reviews for patients considered not critical and not allowing any caregivers (bed-siders).

The adventurous of medium height who loves to read novels and a fan of radio suggests that there is need to come up with other measures that will see young people being able to access SRHR services even as the pandemic was still raging.

“In as much as there is Covid 19 around, life has to go on and people have to access medication and other services. For instance, I am only going to UTH to get medication after six months. But there are those people that have just started ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) so they can’t go after six months because they need monitoring beginning of their treatment. So, authorities need to do something,”.

She wondered how those with multiple complications are managing to cope up in this time.

Asked on how her organisation, the positive Movement, which is involved in SRHR and supporting and integrating young people with disabilities, the HIV positive or both, she laments that “we can’t have those conversations because of restrictions placed. And when we use online platforms such as Whatsapp Group, you will find that some people are not online due to lack of data.

She reveals that since the restrictions were placed early March 2020, they have not had a meeting however, she is hoping that the situation may come back to normal soon.

Sampa, who among her awards in the country includes The President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) Champions Award 2014 for her HIV/AIDS Activism and the Youth Movers Award 2015, is worried at the rate Covid is spreading in the country.

“For me living with HIV, my immunity is already at risk so even moving up and down is not an issue I look forward now,” she notes.

The young Lusaka based SRHR advocate raises fears considering that concentration has now moved to Covid 19 forging other sectors.

“I am seeing the HIV/AIDS epidemic fight going back to start all over again in Zambia. Already we are still in the double digit in the HIV prevalence rate according to records. We are not yet in single digit. And we are still trying to beat the 90-90-90 goals.

I feel we shall need a lot of information and sensitization in the next 3 to 4 years about other challenges like HIV/AIDS and it is not going to be a good thing,” she poured out her uncertainties emotionally.

According to a UNAIDS Report of 2018, Zambia with a population of 17 million people has 1 200 000 people were living with HIV. HIV prevalence – the percentage of people living with HIV – among adults between 15 and 49 years was 11.3% with 48 000 people were newly infected with HIV and 17 000 people died from an AIDS-related illness.

The 90–90–90 targets envision that, by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status will be accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment will have suppressed viral loads.


“People’s access to SRHR might not be the same. Access might go down because even at the moment people have different views about SRHR while others don’t even know about what SRHR is hence in 10 years’ time, we may have to start all over again to educate people on it,” Nsofwa expounds.

She says it may not be the same in the next 10 years as the gains posted so far in SRHR may be affected negatively.

What that unique thing would you want changed as the country and world are facing this deadly pandemic that has affected over 2 million and claimed over 200, 000? A question posed as she sighs for her conclusion and her answer comes with her last chumming smile; “This is a wakeup call to every one of us”.

“Covid 19 is all about cleanliness. We need to change the way we live by adapting to cleanliness. That will shield us from contracting some of these diseases. The more we don’t keep our surroundings clean, the more we are not helping ourselves. It should not take the government to tell you to clean our environment,” cautions the TedTalk 2019 Speaker.

Yes! Sampa could have seen the worst in life, being HIV positive, having both TB and meningitis at the same time and later getting to be blind, she has not lost hope, she established an organisation to champion SRHR, help young people get-on in life despite challenges.

Her vision, is to see an inclusive society. “A society that is going to be more inclusive that do not judge you based on your disabilities or your status, and I believe Zambia can get there if we just understand and give a listening ear.

The thing with disability is one never knows if they will be or not. I didn’t think I was going to end up blind, but here I am. But then life has to move on as I can’t sit back and remain crying that I am blind.”

Mwenya Chiti, Phakama Africa Executive Director, an organisation that deals with Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights empties out her fears stating that Covid-19 is likely to impact negatively on SRHR and hit hard the young people.

She adds saying services for young people should not be forgotten even as the country and the entire world focuses on Covid 19 and its challenges. One component she mentions is the likely diverting of resources from services such as SRHR to Covid-19 fight.

“There will be an impact on the supply of services and medication to health centres thereby affecting beneficiaries especially the young population, which is sad,” she notes.

Picture by Fortress Media

Arthur Sikopo is a journalist from Zambia. This story is part of the Gender Links News Service , Gender and COVI-19 news series.


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