Background: Despite the high burden of adverse adolescent sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes, it has remained a low political priority in Kenya. We examined factors that have shaped the lack of current political prioritization of adolescent SRH service provision.
Methods: We used the Shiffman and Smith policy framework consisting of four categories-actor power, ideas, political contexts, and issue characteristics-to analyse factors that have shaped political prioritization of adolescent SRH. We undertook semi-structured interviews with 14 members of adolescent SRH networks between February and April 2019 at the national level and conducted thematic analysis of the interviews.
Findings: Several factors hinder the attainment of political priority for adolescent SRH in Kenya. On actor power, the adolescent SRH community was diverse and united in adoption of international norms and policies, but lacked policy entrepreneurs to provide strong leadership, and policy windows were often missed. Regarding ideas, community members lacked consensus on a cohesive public positioning of the problem. On issue characteristics, the perception of adolescents as lacking political power made politicians reluctant to act on the existing data on the severity of adolescent SRH. There was also a lack of consensus on the nature of interventions to be implemented. Pertaining to political contexts, sectoral funding by donors and government treasury brought about tension within the different government ministries resulting in siloed approaches, lack of coordination and overall inefficiency. However, the SRH community has several strengths that augur well for future political support. These include the diverse multi-sectoral background of its members, commitment to improving adolescent SRH, and the potential to link with other health priorities such as maternal health and HIV/AIDS.
Conclusion: In order to increase political attention to adolescent SRH in Kenya, there is an urgent need for policy actors to: 1) create a more cohesive community of advocates across sectors, 2) develop a clearer public positioning of adolescent SRH, 3) agree on a set of precise approaches that will resonate with the political system, and 4) identify and nurture policy entrepreneurs to facilitate the coupling of adolescent SRH with potential solutions when windows of opportunity arise.