Expert highlights self-care strategies for sexual, reproductive health rights

By Vivian Ihechu

A public health practitioner and researcher, Goodness Odey, has emphasised the need to promote and strengthen self-care strategies for Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).

Odey, a SRHR advocate, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Lagos.

She told NAN that there were age-long cultural socialisation patterns in the country that had made women and girls not to actualise their reproductive rights.

Quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO), she defined health as a complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing and not entirely the absence of disease or infirmity.

In terms of sexual health and reproductive health, Odey said it entails the importance of having that complete state of sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.

“The rights components remind us that as humans, we should address or respect the right of everyone to attaining the best quality, sexual care, reproductive care, information, services, and justice.

“Women and girls in our clime, they do not have bodily autonomy.

“You don’t believe that your body says yes, and this is an age long, socialisation issue that stems from our cultural beliefs.

“This has restricted these women from deciding what would happen to their body.

“The number of children they can have, the kind of contraceptive they will be able to access that is  suitable to their reproductive health needs and when they want to have sex.

“It has restricted how they want to be treated, the consent to say `I don’t want’, ` I want’ and it cuts across various demographics.

“There are many nuances when it comes to culture because Nigeria is a very diverse country,” she said.

Odey, highlighting the importance of self-care, told NAN that self-care strategies helped to boost SRHR which ultimately help to manage and prevent sexual and reproductive challenges, ailments and diseases.

According to her, at the core of self-care is the ability for individuals and communities to be able to manage their health, prevent diseases and protect themselves.

She added that even in the cases of disability, one could navigate life  without dependency on the healthcare system.

Odey recommended self-care interventions, empowerment for women and girls to care for themselves as well as wider sensitisation on sexual reproductive health.

According to WHO, self-care interventions are tools which support the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.

Self-care includes self-management, like administering a long-acting injectable contraceptive or self-swabbing for human papillomavirus, or oral home-testing for HIV.

It can include self-awareness, like accessing health information from a trusted peer or an app.

She gave some recommendations to improve reproductive health and self-care, of which include proper implementation of  programmes and policy design on reproductive health, as well as the need to fill up funding gaps.

“ You also have funding challenges, because there’s also a need for accessibility and affordability of this use of these commodities.

“Reproductive and sexual health commodities are also the challenge of many women and girls.

“Even not having the right infrastructure to support them to manage reproductive health, as simple as sanitary pads, some  struggle to manage.

“Women and girls need to understand their physiology from puberty to menopause and even after.

“If you’re able to access all the resources, information services, then one can leave the best of one’s potential to the life cycle,” she said.

Odey advised that self-care strategies must involve providing ownership and agency to individuals and communities alike; stressing that parents and guardians must take the responsibility to guide the girl-child.

“Everyone has the responsibility, as a mother, as a father, how you support your girl child and your voice to be able to understand their body to respect and to manage just sexual health and reproductive modes matters.

“Information is power.

“At the system’s level, different institutions, our government, the private sector, civil society organisation, religious and faith-based organisation, cultural, religious, cultural groups that are community leaders, what are we doing to ensure that there is a wellbeing for all that these barriers that we face?

“Those barriers which we made, those cultural ones we made, those steps, how can we bridge these gaps?

“So, we must work together holistically, support more resources that are people-centred, that are community-centred toward better access to sexual health, reproductive health and reproductive rights,’’ she said.(NAN)