It is something parents fail to talk about at home. Schools are not bold about it in the classroom. It does not seem to come anywhere near a government’s prioritised health issues. 

As for churches, even with a commanding heavy teenage and young adult membership, the topic may not be one of their favourites.

Yet, adolescent sexual and reproductive health issues can be a thief of time. A time- bomb that can totally destroy the future of a youthful population, often described as the future of a nation.

While Africa has been admired by the rest of the world as the continent of the future because of its youthful population, we seem to do very little to nurture, manage and encourage the development of this potential “future”. Empowering them with the knowledge and education on something as critical as sexual and reproductive health is often a second guess.

There has been a lot of talk about teenage pregnancies, illegal abortions, rising incidence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, drug abuse and high school dropouts. All these are ills gnawing at the future of the youth.

Sexual and reproductive health

Studies have shown that the lack of awareness and understanding of implications of sexual and reproductive health issues are real and pervasive in our society. Any wonder there was, for example, huge numbers from the Ghana Education Service (GES) indicating a high incidence of teenage pregnancies especially in 2020 when schools were closed and students were at home.

A situation which has led the GES and School Health to introduce and encourage “back to the classroom” programmes for teenage mothers so they do not become drop outs in their quest for formal education.

Adolescence can be a challenging period during which children become exposed to all forms of misguided health, sexual and reproductive activities that could have long-term negative effects. Such effects are not only detrimental to their health but also to their education, development and future.

As its contribution to the issue, the Zonta Club of Accra has passionately taken up the challenge to make a difference in the area of sexual and reproductive health, especially in disadvantaged communities.

Status of women

As a service organisation committed to uplifting the status of women and girls, having learnt that the common challenge that was facing pre-Secondary School children was in the area of sexual and reproductive health, Zonta 2018 started a laudable adolescent sexual reproductive health programme in the Abokobi sub-district of Ga East in the Greater-Accra Region.

With the support and guidance of the Health and Education Directorate of the Municipality and with financial help from UNFPA, a project on sexual and reproductive health aimed at educating and empowering school-going adolescents was initiated.

The programme went far with selected schools in the Municipality. Adolescent Health Clubs were set up.  Teachers were trained to supervise, guide, organise and coordinate activities of the Clubs.

For the sustainability of the programme, ambassadors and peer educators were also trained to provide counselling and support to their peers who needed assistance.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic did not allow the project to travel very far with lockdowns and closure of schools in 2020.

Assessment

Nonetheless, the pause presented an opportunity for a good assessment of the project last year. It showed a reduction in the incidence of teenage pregnancy at a time when other parts of the country were experiencing a surge. 

The assessment also showed that an increase in the knowledge of reproductive health issues in the project areas, namely, Abokobi and Kwabenya sub-Municipalities was high.

With that in mind, Zonta, again, with support from UNFPA, GHS GES, resumed its community assistance of empowering the adolescent with the sought after life lessons last month. 

The target was to expand to 21 schools, train 42 teachers as health communicators and 105 pupils as peer educators.

Eleven schools in the Abokobi Municipality have successfully gone through the project. To make it more sustainable, 22 health communicators and 55 peer educators have also undergone the requisite training and the inauguration of Health Clubs. This took place a couple of weeks ago where certificates and badges were presented.

A five-day training has also been completed in the last week for 20 health communicators and 50 peer educators from 10 selected schools in Taifa and Kwabenya.

The valuable contribution of Zonta Club and its allies to empowering the adolescent youth in the beneficiary communities are indeed laudable. They have broken the ice and empowered the youth to lifetime education and lessons as far as their sexual and reproductive health is concerned.

Ultimately, this should have a cascading effect in communities, schools and families. The nation would be better off with knowledgeable and empowered youth able to take care of their reproductive and other health issues while concentrating on completing their formal education.

The drive of Zonta Club and the seed sown should help the youth in the beneficiary communities focus their dreams towards a more informed and knowledgeable future. A worthy cause worth emulation by other service organisations. 

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The writer can be contacted via vickywirekoandoh@yahoo.com