Now that the Eastern Africa Reproductive Health Network (EARHN) meeting is closed and the group is armed with a draft strategic plan, the PAI team here in Kampala has finally had the opportunity to explore the city. Carolyn Vogel, PAI VP of Programs, and I had a full day of meetings today to help us gain an understanding of the realities facing men, women and youth in Uganda who need of reproductive health and family planning supplies and services.
Our first stop was Naguru Teenage Centre, widely recognized as one of the best equipped youth centers in Kampala. Young people from age 10 to 24 are willing to travel for hours to utilize the services here, as evidenced by the long line of people waiting outside the building. In fact, the clinic is so popular that they had to stop advertising their services because the numbers of clients grew overwhelming. The center’s advocacy manager, Henry Ntala told us, “It can be so hard to see young people sitting outside, but there’s nothing to do.” Even as Carolyn Vogel and I sat outside the center talking to Mr. Ntala, we watched dozens more women and children stream toward the center to join the ever growing line. The number of young people needing reproductive health services and supplies seems endless.
The wait will continue inside in a packed waiting room, but once they reach the front of the line, the clients have access to a wide range of services. Everything is completely free and services range from counseling to testing for HIV and other STIs to post abortion care (even though abortion itself is illegal in Uganda). Clients will get their test results within an hour and can pick up any contraceptives or medicine that they need before they leave. The whole center is incredibly clean and efficient, despite the huge numbers of clients that they serve each day.
The center also hosts a toll-free phone line where young people can receive professional counseling on a completely confidential basis – a way to provide critical information to people who feel shy or are afraid to visit the clinic. The line receives approximately 50-70 calls a day from people throughout Uganda. This toll-free phone line is especially crucial because of a misconception in Uganda that clinics are only for women, not men. The statistics bear this out as the majority of in-person visitors to the clinic are female while the majority of people using the toll-free line are male. This is just another great example of how the Naguru Teenage Centre is working to help the young people of Kampala receive the reproductive health services they desperately need. With their clear understanding of their clientele, the center is expanding its reach beyond the walls of the center itself.
It’s clear that Kampala (and the rest of Uganda) needs many more centers like this one.