NUR-SULTAN – Young people in Kazakhstan now have more information channels to get credible information about sexual and reproductive health, now that the Kazakh Healthcare Ministry and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kazakhstan have launched the Shyn (truth in Kazakh) app, website, and a Telegram bot (@shynkzbot) that seeks to improve sexual and reproductive health literacy among adolescents, young adults, and their parents.
The package of communication tools was developed with a group of national experts headed by the UNFPA office in Kazakhstan and the organization’s headquarters in New York.
The website, app and Telegram bot are available in both the Kazakh and Russian languages. It has sections designed for boys and girls, adolescents, and parents covering different topics tailored to the needs of youth at a particular age. There is also a section where people can ask questions anonymously.
The app, however, will only be available for Android devices for now. It will be released on PlayMarket starting Jan. 1, 2021.
It is part of the government’s efforts to invest in the well-being of young people. It is also designed to strengthen and institutionalize youth-friendly services in the country, something Kazakhstan has pledged to do during the Nairobi summit on ICPD25 (International Conference on Population and Development) in November last year to decrease maternal mortality, ensure equal access to sexual and reproductive health services, and take stricter measures aimed at eliminating gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
In addition to communication products, work to strengthen youth-friendly services includes the development of a strategy for the sustainable development and funding of Youth Health Centres in the country, a series of protocols regulating the work of youth health professionals as well as psychological and legal counseling.
“Youth health centers will become healthcare facilities that provide medical and psychological assistance to minors. Their main goal will be to raise awareness among adolescents and young people on promoting a healthy lifestyle and protecting reproductive health,” said Kazakh Vice Minister of Healthcare Azhar Giniyat.
In the survey conducted by the UNFPA in Kazakhstan on the level of awareness of contraceptive methods and family planning among adolescents and young people, young people and their parents reported that they needed more information on sexual and reproductive health and on the challenges they face trying to receive it. Another survey done by the UNFPA shows that 30 percent of adolescents in Kazakhstan aged 15 to 19 are sexually active.
“Investing in young people’s sexual and reproductive health also means empowering young people to make informed decisions about their health, empowering young people to know and exercise their rights – including the right to delay marriage and to plan a pregnancy, the right to refuse unwanted sexual advances, the right to receive sensitive counseling, the prevention, and management of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Age-appropriate information that is accurate and relevant, as well as friendly health services, are key. Hopefully, the communications products launched today constitute another step towards ensuring that young people know how to protect their health and make informed decisions,” said Giulia Vallese, UNFPA Representative for Kazakhstan and Country Director for Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
More work, however, is to be done to achieve these long-term goals.
According to Laula Brik, a psychologist at Zhas Asyl youth health center, overcoming stigma and negative attitudes to sexual education in schools is important in providing better sexual and reproductive health services to young people.
“Unfortunately, many people do not fully understand why it is so important to educate our young people about these issues in a competent and confidential manner. They think it is wrong and indecent to talk about it. Sexual and reproductive health issues are an integral part of adolescent health and education because they not only affect the health of individual citizens but also have a multifaceted impact on the health of a nation and the development of a country,” said Brik.
Zhas Asyl is one of 128 such centers in Kazakhstan that provides quality sexual and reproductive health and mental health counseling from psychologists, gynecologists, urologists, and dermatologists.
The development of Shyn.kz platform comes at a time when getting a medical consultation or service becomes more problematic due to COVID-19 restrictions and with young people spending the majority of their time online, it could become an optimal way for young people to get credible information anonymously.