Tackling sexual health taboos in communities
According to UNICEF, three in ten young Zambian women in rural areas aged 13-19 have begun childbearing: that is, they have given birth already or are currently pregnant with their first child. Teenage pregnancy statistics stand at 29 percent with about 16,000 adolescent girls dropping out of school as a result of pregnancy.
VSO with partners including Planned Parenthood Association Zambia (PPAZ) and the Zambian Ministry of Health delivered the Adolescent TALK! project. It was implemented in four wards of Samfya District, in the Luapula Province of Zambia. This project aimed at enhancing the Sexual Reproductive Health Services and practices for 7,949 girls and boys aged 10 to 19 years and ensuring young people are better informed, empowered and equipped to make healthy decisions about their health.
The impacts of the project include reduced incidence of teenage pregnancies, uptake of contraceptives and enhanced sexual health knowledge.
Reaching the island
Mbabala is a remote island in Zambia's immense Lake Bangweulu and home to 2,000 people. They have just one primary school and one health centre with a single nurse. For most, poverty prevents them from reaching the mainland and the means to access developed sexual health services and contraceptive choice. This was exacerbated by mistaken beliefs around sexual health, such as contraceptives cause cancer.
To address these issues, the TALK! project utilsed a range of volunteers:
- Building young people's knowledge and awareness: Local youth volunteer 'peer educators' did outreach in the community, in the classroom and at the health facility, providing vital sexual reproductive health (SRH) information in a safe and relatable way - among peers
- Tackling stigma around sexual health: VSO brought on board highly-respected community elders and trained them as volunteer 'change champions', who shared SRH information with older people (who were also very misinformed) to help change community attitudes
- Increasing access to contraceptives: Other elders became volunteer 'community-based distributors' - a discreet and confidential way for local people to access condoms and other contraceptives, near to their homes, 24 hours a day
- Providing best practice tools and information: Specialist volunteers worked in communities across Samfya district, training volunteers, setting up five youth-friendly health centres and creating other resources like radio talk shows on SRH topics
Records at Mbabala show teenage pregnancies within the community have significantly reduced since the project began, with not a single girl dropping out of school due to pregnancy in 2019.