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Adolescent health care in Nigeria is a fundamental struggle that the country faces on the path toward a more equitable society. In 2017, the U.N. reported that wealth inequality in Nigeria is extreme, as the five wealthiest people have a combined wealth of $29.9 billion while 60% of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 a day. Nigeria is in a precarious position, as the country has great wealth, yet inequality remains high. The health care sector is one area where inequality is evident.

The Divide

A serious challenge that those seeking to expand adolescent health care in Nigeria have encountered is the divide between youth in schools and those who are not. The World Health Organization (WHO) contends that adolescence is characterized by a significant psychological and physical transition.

Sex education is an integral part of adolescent health care. Sex education can include education in the areas of sexuality, marriage, childbearing and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, adolescents who are in school tend to have a different, more formal access to this type of education largely because adolescent health care mainly funnels through in-school programs.

Moreover, adolescents in school are generally more affluent and from either urban or suburban areas. As a result, adolescent health care in Nigeria tends to focus on these segments of the population.

Individuals “out-of-school” are young people who are not in the education system. Education is a major socioeconomic determinant, so because out-of-school adolescents are not in the education system, they tend to be of a lower socioeconomic class or have limitations in the professions they can choose.

Organizations and Support

In September 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is continuing to pledge support to adolescent health care in Nigeria by recognizing that adolescence is an important time in life and development. The WHO program focuses on guidelines and a recommendations-based approach where the program will advise the government on the issue.

Among other organizations working in Nigeria, USAID has decided that improved health care for adolescents “out of school” is a priority, according to The Guardian. USAID launched a five-year (2020-2025) program entitled “YPE4AH” or the “Shine Well Well” Program. Like the WHO program, it seeks to research and outline guidelines and benchmarks for adolescent health in Nigeria. It will work in tandem with the Nigerian government and various other programs such as the Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative and the Women Friendly Initiative to tackle the problem, The Guardian reported.

The program seeks to identify specific benchmarks and important driving factors which determine health care. Additionally, many of these programs strive to reduce the stigma around sex education, which not only includes information about STIs but also topics like vaccines, maternal care and mental health.

Those committed to adolescent health care in Nigeria recognize that a multitude of international organizations have not only recognized the problem but committed support. While those familiar with the issue understand that wealth inequality remains a key barrier to health care equality, they may have the reassurance that the government, NGOs and Nigerian organizations are working in tandem to combat the issue. The first step, which is seeking to identify the problem and quantify it, has already occurred, so hopefully, change will follow.

– Lara Drinan
Photo: Flickr