Teenage Pregnancy ‘Drastically’ Decreasing in Southeastern Liberia amid UNFPA, Swedish Government’s Intervention
Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County- The government of Liberia and its partners including UNFPA and the Swedish Government are celebrating the rapid decline in teenage pregnancy in Grand Gedeh, River Gee and Grand Kru Counties.
Teenage pregnancy in Liberia is one of the leading factors that stop girls from completing high school. Data released by officials showed that in 2013, teenage pregnancy stood at a whopping 57.9 percent in these three counties.
However, with the intervention of a multifaceted reproductive health program, the ‘Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Services to Young people’ funded by the Swedish Government through UNFPA, the number has dramatically reduced to 27.2 percent in 2020. The data was contained in a report compiled by BRAC-Liberia, which is implementing the project and the County Health Team (CHT) of Grand Gedeh, and presented to members of a high power delegation comprising the Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Madam Ingrid Wetterqvist, UNFPA Country Representative, Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, and Dr. Gorbee Logan, Assistant Minister of Health for Curative Services.
The delegation is currently on a joint tour of the southeast to get first-hand information about the impact of the project, and to interact with beneficiaries and stakeholders of the counties.
Youth Friendly Center- Catalyst for Reducing Teenage Pregnancy
The program provides free and basic reproductive health services exclusively to adolescent females and males at several Youth Friendly Centers constructed at major health facilities within the counties, officials say.
The Youth Friendly Center is the key behind the success of the program, according to the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child, Adolescent Health Supervisor of Grand Gedeh, Matilda D. Billy during the presentation of the report in a mass meeting attended by delegation and stakeholders from sectors of Grand Gedeh County led by Superintendent, Kai Farley in Zwedru.
The report showed that prior to the construction of the centers, the number of adolescents accessing family planning at health facilities was low, as most of them felt ashamed to join the adults to access these basic reproductive health services at the same place. But with the establishment of centers, the number has increased.
Some of the services rendered at the centers include family planning, antenatal care, delivery of pregnant adolescents, HIV counseling and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Others include the provision of psychosocial support services, outreach to provide adolescent health services, and health and sexuality education and information.
In addition to the youth friendly centers, the reports also noted that several health clubs have been set up at various schools where students are actively engaged and educated about their sexual and reproductive health rights, and encourage to make use of the centers to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Thirteen youth friendly centers have been constructed and functional, along with 16 outreach sites and 15 health rooms in the three counties of the above number, Grand Gedeh County boosts of 10 centers and seven high school health clubs, according to the report.
Beneficiaries, Local Authorities Lauds Swedish Gov’t, UNFPA
During Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Farley led the tribute and on behalf of President George Weah, thanked the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden through Ambassador Wetterqvist, UNFPA and partners for the intervention in curbing teenage pregnancy so far.
He expressed delight in the report which indicated that among the three counties, Grand Gedeh recorded the highest reduction rate of teenage pregnancy by approximately 23 percent. He promised to work closely with the team on the ground to ensure the number decreases further.
“With your intervention, we want to appreciate you and say we are very much happy that we are getting there. We will not stop at 23 percent. We will make sure that we get to zero teenage pregnancy rate,” he said.
He said teenage pregnancy remains the main challenge for girls staying in school. He also pointed out that rape is one of the main causes of teenage pregnancy in the county; and revealed that the county authority in collaboration with the Liberia National Police (LNP), civil society organizations and health authorities is combatting the menace.
The Superintendent was joined by major stakeholders from various sectors including health, education and civil society organizations; and several adolescents who have benefited from the youth friendly center.
The youth, in sharing their success stories, thanked the Swedish Government, UNFPA and BRAC for the project they said is impacting their lives positively.
Student Lydia Wawood, age 17, sharing her success stories said she once heard about the family panning but was told that it has side effect and would stop women from having children. However, because she had a boyfriend and was afraid to get pregnant since he lived with his parent, she decided to visit the youth friendly center where she was not only given contraceptives, but also benefited from basic sexual and reproductive healht education. In a passionate appeal to UNFPA and Ambassador Wetterqvist, she called for the program to be extended outside of Zwedru- to towns, villages and mining sites to benefit other adolescent girls; saying “Everyone has dreams to go school and become successful, but teenage pregnancy can easily stop us from realizing our dreams.”
Oliver Zleh, Jr., age 17, in his testimony, explained that he was encouraged by group of peer educators who visited him at his home to check at the youth friendly center, and he did. And since his encounter with them, he has learned a lot about the benefits of family planning. Prior to meeting, he noted that he had been ashamed of visiting the health facility to get clarity on the issue of family planning. However, he now uses condom to not only prevent him from fathering a baby by chance, but protecting him from contracting sexually transmitted diseases. He is now encouraging his friends and classmates to make use of the center, according him.
Earlier in Toe Town, the team made a first stop at the Youth Friendly Center where the delegation met with local leaders, health practitioners and the adolescents- mostly students and Ivorian refugees who are also benefiting from the program.
Tembra S. Doe, narrating her ordeal said she got pregnant at age 15 and abandoned by her parents. After she gave birth, Ms. Doe said she met a friend who encourage her to take family planning and go back to school, but she firstly felt reluctant because of the myths and misinformation surrounding family planning. However, when she came across the Community Health Volunteers, they encourage her to visit the center.
“Since I got on the family planning, I have not gotten pregnant, and I have no infections, or growth. My stomach is not big as they said. And I am happily in school and in the 9th grade,” Ms. Doe said with a big smile as members of the delegation look on with satisfaction.
Also explaining her story was Hellen Weah, who said when she got pregnant, she wanted to abort. But based on her friend’s advice, she kept the pregnancy and her parents were not happy. However, when she gave birth the baby died and she was out of school until she came across the peer educators who encouraged her take family planning and go back to school.
“I didn’t take family planning because people discourage me that it has bad effect. It gives growth. But I am now happily in school since I began taking the family planning. And I would one day like to be just like the Swedish Ambassador to go around the world and inspire young girls.
In response, Ambassador Wetterqvist said the reduction is an amazing achievement and thanked the UNFPA and BRAC-Liberia for their creativity and successful implementation of the program so far. She said Liberia, with 50 percent of its population under 24, is truly a young country and its future lies in the hands of the young people. And to fully get prepared and take over the leadership and management of the country and its resources, it is imperative they are healthy and educated. She also thanked the locals in Toe Town for their generosity and for extending the services to the Ivorian refugees, noting she was extremely impressed over the impact of the program. The support from Sweden, she noted is an expression of solidarity from a country which used to be backward some 100 years ago, but now is very rich, adding that through its taxpayers, Sweden is willing to help Liberia, with so much potential to prosper.
Dr. Logan, on behalf of Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, thanked the Swedish Government for the immense support to the health sector. He also hailed the collaboration of the implementing partners and the Ministry of health, nothing that the innovative program launched by UNFPA through BRAC and funded by the Swedish Embassy is making significant impact in the counties.
Speaking further, he said over 30 percent of pregnant women in Liberia are adolescents, and one in every four pregnant women suffer during pregnancy. However, he noted that with the encouraging results from the three counties, the number will decline and called on the partners to extend the program to other parts of the country. He then called on the young people to make use of the youth friendly centers.
For his part, Dr. Ndyanabangi thanked the Swedish Government for supporting most of UNFPA’s projects. He lauded BRAC for successful implementation, and thanked the communities for accepting the program. Owing to the positive outcome of the project, he said it will now be used as a model to curb teenage pregnancy across the country.
Meanwhile, the delegation is currently in River Gee County in continuation of the tour and soliciting feedbacks from stakeholders including county officials and beneficiaries.