Investing in girls’ health, safety and education is a key way of ensuring they reach their goals. To commemorate the International Day of the Girl Child, we asked five Nigerians to tell us what this day means to them in relation to girls and health in their country. This is what they had to say:
Victoria Akai Dare
“I mentor my beautiful niece Hauwa and I think a lot about what her future will look like especially as it concerns access to healthcare in Nigeria. I love this girl so much and when I think about what her life should be by 2030 I wish Hauwa will be privileged to live in a country where the policy makers agree that gender equality is necessary and enforced. That gender discrimination in the field of health is eliminated. That her future employers will ensure that there is no discrimination against her on any grounds whatsoever in the field of health care. That when she visits a public healthcare facility, she has the right to free and quality health care services, including provision of all necessary medical, surgical, diagnostic services. That the government protects her rights to make decisions to key health issues that could affect her general wellbeing including reproductive and mental wellbeing. That she will be provided with the necessary access to health information that concerns her and also given the right to make inputs to health policies that affect her as a girl child.”
“There are events which happen as you grow up which shape your destiny. I chose to become a Public Health expert because of an event which happened during my teenage years. A close friend of mine contracted a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI). She could not tell her parents about it because she was scared of the consequences she might face at home and she was reluctant to go to the hospital because she was scared of stigmatisation which is commonly faced by unmarried girls reporting sexual health problems in Nigeria. She also did not have money to cover the cost of getting treatment. After a while, her health took a drastic downslide, and she decided to confide in me. Eventually I was able to raise some money and convinced her to go to the hospital. By the time she got there, it was discovered that she was septic as a result of the delay in seeking treatment for her STI. It took a while for her to recover from the STI and she had to drop out of school. I am into public health because I want to see girls get access to the treatments they need.”
“A girl child’s challenges are a lot around access because of the stigma and challenges she faces when she does visit a healthcare facility. When a sick girl throws up in the hospital, most of the time, such a girl will be strongly scolded for messing up the facility. Apart from that, people might think she is pregnant, especially if she is still young. The circumstances in which she finds herself when she is unwell can further increase the stress of the sickness and the girl might be reluctant to visit a health facility in future. This increases her risks on some illnesses which would have been easier to treat being worsened. As a young man, I want to see a Nigeria in which girls are able to get treatment in a free and safe environment.
“When I was an undergraduate student in Public Health, one of my courses required that I carry out a field practicum project. My area of interest was sexual and reproductive health; an aspect I feel is largely ignored. The response I got from the clergy men at the school was shocking. They told me that I was leading students to hell by educating them about contraceptives, STIs and unsafe abortion. I mean I respect people and their religious beliefs, but we must not ignore the fact that African girls like myself and even younger are vulnerable and contributing to the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, maternal, and infant mortality. We must take proactive measures. Abstinence may be encouraged as it is the best method of protection but there must be other measures to reduce girls’ vulnerability. As we commemorate the day of girl child, I believe girls should be empowered with access to not only health facilities but information which empowers them to make the right choices.”
“While the ideal government spending on health should be about 15% of their national budget, Nigeria commits less than five percent. This is very low and it affects various aspects of the health care system for the average Nigerian girl. If we can invest more in health all the challenges can be made right and the Nigerian health sector developed. This will not just raise the quality of life of a girl growing up in Nigeria but will also help us attain Health for All. I want to see improvements in the health sector holistically because it is the grass, in this the girl child, who suffers the most when the resources are limited.