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Congo youth court for sex and reproductive health

July 31, 2018
topic:Women's rights
tags:#Democratic Republic of Congo, #Dr. Love, #sex, #abortion
located:Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya
by:Bob Koigi
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 25% of girls give birth before they reach the age of 18 and only one out of ten women use contraceptives. Information on reproductive health is hard to come by in a society that is largely conservative, and where sex is a taboo subject.

Despite being home to some of the most sought after natural resources like diamond, uranium and gold, poverty levels in the Central African country are staggering.  It is ranked 176 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index with 80 per cent of the population living in poverty. As a result literacy levels are low and access to education is a nightmare.

The majority of girls get pregnant due to lack of proper information on reproduction. This has birthed back street abortion clinics that promise quick fixes to the girls’ problems despite abortion being illegal. Girls who decide to carry their pregnancy to full term are ostracised and mocked.

“It is a very delicate situation. On the one hand, we have thousands of girls entering puberty and reproductive age who have no source of information and makes all the decisions from a point of no information and on the other hand, we have a society that seems to laugh at them for their ignorance when for example they get pregnant. And then we are talking about the prevalence of HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases especially from young men also stemming from information gap,” said Theodore Sinza who has been involved in reproductive health programmes in the country.

One doctor has decided to do something about it. Aime Lokulutu based in the capital Kinshasa has come up with a mobile application dubbed ‘Doctor Love’ that seeks to answer sex and reproductive health questions with its targeting the youth. All users of the app are anonymous but are able to see all the questions and answers posted in the app. This is meant to build confidence in those seeking help.  

The app is a Godsend and appears to have contributed heavily to bridging the information gap going by the heavy traffic it enjoys barely seven months since it was launched. While there are platforms that give general information on reproductive health, Doctor Love seems to click with a majority of young people because messages are personalised and they can ask just about anything without worrying about being exposed and attracting ridicule.

Dr Lokulutu who hails it as a homemade innovation responding to Congolese problems, got the inspiration to come up with the app from his own experience. Before he became a doctor, he impregnated his girlfriend. Lack of credible information then, as is now, allowed people to peddle theories on minimising chances of getting pregnant. Taking two anti-malaria tablets was one such remedy. But this did not work for Lokulutu’s girlfriend. His son, now 22, a product of what he went through has been the inspiration for him to make things right and ensure the young people make informed decisions.

But Dr Lokulutu and the team of fellow doctors have to grapple with the longstanding political crisis in the country which sometimes grind businesses to a halt. Whenever conflict erupts, the government switches off the internet and they are left in the dark.

But even in such tough conditions the innovation is putting the country in the map for the right reasons and attracting interest from neighbouring countries and players.

“Such homegrown innovations are powerful tools in addressing some of the most biting problems in the continent that are usually ignored. Matters of reproductive health are not freely discussed despite being very crucial for the continent. We are talking of HIV/AIDS transmissions which still remain high in the continent, pregnancies and the adverse effects of backstreet abortions. We need to have systems and innovations that will win especially our young people’s hearts while assuring them of anonymity,” said Dr Stanley Mibei from the Department Population and Reproductive Health of Kenyatta University in Kenya.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Democratic Republic of the Congo Kenya
Embed from Getty Images
Congo is ranked 176 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index with 80 per cent of the population living in poverty.
Embed from Getty Images
Majority of girls get pregnant due to lack of proper information on reproduction.
Embed from Getty Images
Girls who decide to carry their pregnancy to full term are ostracized and mocked at.
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