Leadership Breaks Down Barriers to Health Services in Uganda

 {Photo credit: Geoffrey Ddamba}A peer educator mobilizes clients for outreach services in Kawempe, Uganda.Photo credit: Geoffrey Ddamba

This story was originally published in US Agency for International Development (USAID)'s Frontlines newsletter and also appeared on the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project's website, LMGforHealth.org. The LMG Project is funded by USAID and led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) with a consortium of partners.

Adolescent pregnancy is high in Uganda for a multitude of reasons, including lack of information and education, lack of access to youth friendly services, and barriers to access such as stigma and negative staff attitudes. Due to social stigma, many young people in Uganda shy away from reproductive health services. They often don’t want their parents or community members to know that they have a need for family planning services.

Mbarara Youth Center

Rita Murungi is a 26-year-old woman from Mbarara, a busy city of 200,000 in western Uganda. She works as a waitress at a restaurant in town and is a regular visitor to a local youth center that hosts daily social events—like team sports and theatrical shows—to provide a safe place for young people ages 15-30 to gather.

The Mbarara Youth Center has another function as well. It is part of International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) affiliate Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), an NGO committed to providing sexual and reproductive health information and services for vulnerable and at-risk young people.

The problem was that young people like Murungi weren’t accessing these all-too-important health services that were quite literally under their noses.

Organizers had envisioned a place to empower young people to make informed sexual and reproductive health decisions and break down barriers to contraceptive access -- contraception is used by just 38 percent of sexually active unmarried women in Uganda.

In Uganda, one in every four teenage girls between 15 and 19 is already a mother or pregnant. Children born to adolescent mothers are less likely to make it to their fifth birthday, and face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women ages 20-24.

So, in 2014, staff at the Mbarara clinic participated in the Leadership Development Program Plus (LDP+), a hands-on program developed by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) that allows professionals at all levels of the health system to learn and practice leadership, management and governance skills. ...