Adolescents are not simply beneficiaries of social programs, they are themselves actors for social change. At Lira Regional Referral Hospital, three youth volunteers (ages 24, 23 and 22) have demonstrated their abilities and capabilities by supporting the newly established adolescent services center to gain function. From offering health education and registration to managing client flow, the three youth volunteers have made the provision of adolescent friendly services possible in a context of staff shortages.
But perhaps their greatest contribution has been mitigating adolescents’ various health compromising behaviors, risks and conditions--through sharing their own experiences with adolescents during daily health education sessions at the adolescent center.
According to Lira’s focal staff on adolescent services Sr. Susan Achiro, the volunteers are an effective tool particularly because adolescents easily identify with them. Their contributions have led to increased demand for the adolescent healthcare services. “They share their experiences during the health education talks. They also talk about the dangers of unsafe sex, substance use, and violence. My role has been to empower the youth volunteers with the necessary knowledge and skills and to supervise them for efficiency.”
Docus, Gloria and Olivia share their experiences and key messages with adolescents who arrive at the clinic. Their hope is that adolescents can learn from them and take charge of their lives. According to the 2014 WHO summary on Health for the World’s Adolescents, effective response to support adolescent health and development requires a range of actors, including adolescents themselves. The use of young people (positive deviants) at the adolescent centre at Lira Hospital has provided the opportunity for adolescents and young adults to network, a chain that can address many issues due to the commonality of risks and protective factors.
“In all aspects of health service delivery, adolescents should be viewed as equal partners and stakeholders. In order to participate in a meaningful way, adolescents should be given opportunities, empowered and trained as effective peer educators, counsellors, trainers and advocates.”
WHO Guidance on Adolescents HIV Counseling, Testing and Care, 2014
Lira Hospital is one among six pilot regional referral hospitals benefitting from the USAID/Strengthening Uganda’s Systems for Treating AIDS Nationally (SUSTAIN) project support for adolescent friendly healthcare services. USAID/SUSTAIN has built the capacity of healthcare workers (including volunteers) for the six hospitals to provide these services. The project continues to provide coaching and mentoring for efficient service delivery.
How Lira identified the three volunteers
The HIV clinic team recognized their potential because of their active participation in peer support activities for adolescents.
They volunteered then received mentoring in HTC, initially supporting the decentralization of HCT to all service delivery areas in the hospital.
They then received training on adolescent friendly healthcare services and are now supporting the adolescent center.