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Sexual and reproductive health and rights in the era of COVID-19: a qualitative study of the experiences of vulnerable urban youth in Ethiopia

Journal issue/article

Written by Nicola Jones

Youth who have migrated from rural to urban areas in Ethiopia are often precariously employed, lack access to sexual and reproductive health services, and are at heightened risk of sexual violence. However, little is known about the sexual and reproductive health consequences of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and associated lockdowns and service disruptions for urban-dwelling socially disadvantaged youth.

This paper draws on qualitative virtual research with 154 urban youths aged 15–24 years who were past and present beneficiaries of United Nations Population Fund-funded programs, and 19 key informants from the city bureaus and non-governmental organisations in June 2020. Semi-structured interviews by phone explored the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The pandemic has affected the availability of sexual and reproductive health information and services, and exacerbated fears about attending clinics, particularly disadvantaging youth living with HIV and those involved in commercial sex work. Many young people have also lost their livelihoods, with some moving into transactional and survival sex. Sexual violence further undermines the rights and well-being of youth who are already marginalised, with street-connected youth, young people involved in commercial sex work and youth with disabilities particularly at risk.

There is an urgent need to quickly resume front-line services, and social assistance measures must include young people if Ethiopia is to continue meeting its own objectives around adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health.

Authors: Nicola Jones, Kate Pincock, Workneh Yadete, Meron Negussie, Estibel Mitiku, Tsinu Amde Selassie