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Better information, better health: Ipas reaches out to African youth

The room at Gurara High School in a low-income neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is full of teens engaged in animated conversation on a weekday afternoon. They are talking openly about sex and how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, HIV and other STIs. Some of the students trained as peer educators lead a discussion about a young couple facing an unintended pregnancy – teens chime in knowingly, volunteering suggestions and discussing options like emergency contraception and abortion. At this youth-friendly help point, Ethiopian students have access to space and information, and can discuss their sexual and reproductive health in a friendly, trusting environment. “We get information we never get from parents or teachers,” says one student. “We feel empowered".

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9th April 2010 13:36

raquelandrade | Pan Africa ILGA



In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50 percent of adolescent girls give birth by the time they are 20 years old. In some countries in the region, this figure is more than 70 percent. WHO estimates that youth account for almost 60 percent of unsafe abortions performed in Africa. To combat these statistics, Ipas is implementing new strategies to reach youth with essential sexual and reproductive health information and services:

Through youth-friendly help points at two high schools and three universities, Ipas Ethiopia hopes to make key information more accessible. These help points are spaces designated for reproductive health information and services. Social workers and peer educators provide counseling, contraceptive options like condoms or the pill, information about the consequences of unsafe abortion and referral services to a nearby health facility for pregnancy tests, abortion and other reproductive health issues. Youth also learn about the new abortion legislation implemented in 2005 that makes abortion legal for several different indications, including for minors who are physically or psychologically unprepared to raise a child. Young people who have information about the abortion law, safe abortion care and contraception can make better decisions as they manage their sexual and reproductive health needs.

Ipas Ethiopia, in collaboration with partner agencies, also conducts peer learning and counseling activities, training peer leaders to educate their cohorts about sexual and reproductive health. Most young people get their health information from friends – accurate information received through trainings trickles down through peer groups to positively inform their community. Radio spots, magazines and posters help peer educators spread the message to a broader base. Traditional coffee ceremonies—where women gather to prepare coffee and talk in a familiar, casual setting—also engage young women on difficult topics. To date, Ipas Ethiopia has already reached 15,000 students with key information and resources. Ipas Ethiopia is also training health providers in youth-friendly services to create a more welcoming environment for young people who come in for care.

Laura Villa, Ipas youth associate says, “The project in Ethiopia has shown how important it is to introduce reproductive rights conversations at the community level by using traditional practices, such as the coffee ceremony.”

Ipas Nigeria has been working in close connection with the Postabortion Care Network (PACNet), a multidisciplinary group of concerned individuals and organizations from public and private sectors, to address the problem of high maternal morbidity and mortality from complications of abortion in Nigeria. Last January, Ipas Nigeria helped launch the Youth Postabortion Care Network (Youth PACNet), which brings together medical and other students to advocate for the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. Ipas Nigeria organizes trainings in advocacy, reproductive health and leadership for student leaders in the Youth PACNet, and members have access to resources about various sexual and reproductive health issues and can then share information with their peers.

In addition, Ipas Nigeria provides grants to Youth PacNet members to develop their own community outreach activities. Youth PACNet has planned outreach events at several university campuses, as well as community clubs and faith organizations such as the Nigerian Federation of Catholic Students and the Anglican Youth Fellowship. During these outreach activities, young people are able to discuss and learn about unsafe abortion and other sexual and reproductive health issues.

Ipas Nigeria also supports the Nigerian Medical Students Association (NIMSA) through trainings and grants. After learning Nigeria’s alarming reproductive health and maternal death statistics at a recent Ipas-sponsored advocacy training, the NIMSA Executive Council issued a press release noting the worrisome relationship between unsafe abortion and high maternal mortality and urging the government, religious leaders and traditional rulers “to work together to help salvage the situation.” The statement was covered in several newspapers.