Monday, October 16, 2017
Devex (Oct. 3, 2017): In West Africa, youth ambassadors serve as family planning advocates, by Christin Roby:
In West Africa, young people are receiving training from health professionals and becoming community-based family planning advocates. They use their skills to initiate conversations with their local ministries of health to demand access to contraceptives, reproductive health services, and to ensure they each have a voice in future reproductive policies.
West Africa has the world’s lowest contraceptive prevalence rate accompanied by the world’s highest fertility rate. While the world averages 2.4 children per woman, African women average 4.7 children. West Africa surpasses even the African average with five children per woman, and a 17 percent modern contraception prevalence rate as compared to the global rate of 64 percent.
These initiatives are part of a larger project by the nations that make up the Ouagadougou Partnership (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo). This Partnership has a goal to provide 2.2 million more people in the region better access to family planning methods by 2020. The youth ambassadors especially aim to reach rural communities that don't often have much knowledge about contraception or family planning.
Experts hope that introducing effective family planning methods into more communities will enable young mothers-to-be to space their births, so as to reduce potentially negative health consequences. Young men are important to the conversation as well, and educating them on the risks of un-spaced births and the health complications that young pregnant women face--especially those under 18 years old--is imperative.
By empowering the youth to advocate for themselves and their communities, these groups--such as Strengthening Civil Society Engagement for Family Planning in West Africa--hope to facilitate cooperation between religious and community leaders. Bridging these spheres is important in order to account for various cultural contexts when considering reproductive rights advocacy and establishing new health services programs. Youth ambassadors have effectively organized trainings within mosques and churches and are beginning to open a line of communication about safe sex practices, discussion of which is often considered taboo.
International health experts are optimistic that the West African model will expand contraceptive use and effective family planning and improve reproductive health in the region.