The country will reap maximum benefits for this population if they are offered uninterrupted education and optimal health care

On 11th July every year since 1990, the world celebrates World Population Day to enhance awareness of population issues for attaining economic and social development. Three decades later, people are more enlightened and empowered due to ever-increasing efforts by the government to enhance education, healthcare, food security, and infrastructure.

The suffering experienced by our forefathers have significantly reduced, providing our people with opportunities to live longer, productive lives. Increased population brings to focus our diversity and potential to propel our country to the next level economically and socially while securing our heritage.

The 2019 Kenya National Population and Housing Census showed a population on a steady rise. Census results showed that the country’s population stood at 47 million, an increase from 38.6 million in 2009. The census also showed a surge in the country’s youthful population. Estimates show that persons under the age of 35 constitute an overwhelming majority, approximately 75 per cent. The clearest manifestation of the country’s quest to secure the place of the population as an asset was the express move to secure the guarantee of its rights in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.    Therein, Chapter 4 provides for a robust Bill of Rights that guarantees a whole gamut of rights – from political, economic, and social to environmental.

Specifically to health, the constitution provides that every person has the right to the highest attainable standard of health care services, including reproductive health care.

Quality healthcare

Admittedly, the government has invested much effort to attain quality healthcare. For instance, the current administration under President Uhuru Kenyatta has identified health as one of the pillars of the development blueprint, the Big Four Agenda. President Kenyatta’s sustained commitment to healthcare is further demonstrated by his recent move to assent to the Mental Health Bill. Moreover, and keen to reap optimal benefits of the country’s youthful population, the President has encouragingly not hesitated to focus his attention on areas that impose unbearable pain on the youth in the health sphere; HIV, teen pregnancy as well as sexual and gender-based violence.

Despite the effort, gaps still exist between the constitutional aspiration for universal health care attainment and the existing situation. For example, adolescent pregnancies have become an economic and public health challenge in Kenya. One in every five pregnant women in Kenya is an adolescent aged 10-19. Statistics in our antenatal clinics show that 21 per cent of all pregnant women who attended clinics in 2021 are adolescents. Overall, 316,187 adolescent pregnancies were registered in Kenya in the year 2021.

Difficult childhood

The plight of the youth continues to be compounded by the related twin challenge of high HIV prevalence rates, a situation borne out by recent statistics which show that in 2021, an estimated 32,027 new HIV infections occurred in the country. Of these, 5,294 was among adolescents aged 10 to 19. This means on any single day, about 14 adolescents get infected. We know that HIV is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents globally. In 2021, Kenya recorded 28 HIV-related deaths among 10-19-year-olds.

Young boys and girls continue to bear the brunt of sexual and gender-based violence. In Kenya, there has been an 85 per cent increase in sexual and gender-based violence reported among adolescents aged 10-17 years between 2017 and 2021.

A section of our young children are going through very difficult lives. When the education of our young boys and girls is interrupted, the future of our economy is endangered. If the country is to reap the dividends of its high youthful population, vigilance must be maintained and sustained toward providing uninterrupted education and optimal healthcare. That is why the Ministry of Health through the National AIDS Control Council has partnered with the Ministry of Devolution and Planning through the National Council for Population and Development, the Ministry of Interior, and coordinated of National Government, other government entities, and implementing partners in a campaign dubbed ‘End The Triple Threat to help secure the future of adolescents and young people. The triple threat refers to the overlapping challenge of new HIV infections, pregnancies, and sexual and gender-based violence among adolescents aged 10 to 19.