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School-based Strategy To Support Adolescent Sexual And Reproductive Health

By Hadiza Sani

The absence of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights Education in some schools seems to be one of the reasons some girls turn to teenage mothers and drop out of school. But, a school in Yaounde has come up with an initiative to support SHR education.

Precious, 18, started a relationship with Louis who seemed to show her love and care, but 10 months later, she is learning the hard way.

‘He was like my everything, I couldn’t spend a day without having a gasp of him, I pictured my future with him and it was such a beautiful fairytale but I knew nothing about the reality of life”, Ngefack recalls.

Precious got pregnant and that was when she started having knowledge of the reality of pregnancy at a young age with complications and financial needs.

“When I discovered I was pregnant I only got scared of how my parents would react but didn’t think of the hardship I will face because all I thought I needed was my boyfriend’s attention and care I didn’t have an idea about regular checkups, financial needs, medications to buy, severe neonatal condition and a lot more that I passed through”.

A student the boy that put Ngefack on the family way had no money, and neither did his family. So Ngefack’s family had to struggle to make sure she went for regular checkups. At that tender age, she had to give birth through an operation.

The boy and his family did not show up in the hospital, and Ngefack’s family had to struggle to raise money for the operation.

Ngefack went through a lot of hardship and she wished she was taught in school or beforehand how difficult teenage pregnancy could be.

‘If I had 2% of the knowledge of what I experienced during my pregnancy before, then I don’t think I would have ever taken such a decision and I do always advise the young ones I see for them not to make the same mistake I did because of lack of knowledge.”

Adolescence is the phase of life between childhood and adulthood, from ages 10 to 19. It is a unique stage of human development and an important time for laying the foundation of good health.

 According to UNFPA, every day at least 20,000 girls give birth, and every year, 12 million girls around the world become mothers. Most of these girls live in lower or middle-income countries. These girls are not irresponsible and becoming pregnant is not their fault rather, young motherhood is often the result of a community that has not invested enough to support educate, and understand their girls. When they can receive SRHR education, they do make good decisions about their bodies.

There has been a high rate of teenage pregnancies in Cameroon secondary schools over the years.

Statistics from the Cameroon 2018 Demographic and Health Survey, DHS indicates that one-quarter (24%) of adolescent women aged 15-19 are already mothers or are pregnant with their first child. Teenage childbearing ranges from only 6% in Douala to 44% in the East region and decreases with education. Almost half (48%) of young women with no education have started childbearing compared to only 1% of those with higher education.

Dr. Wadji Brigitte gynecologist mentioned that cases of adolescents who get pregnant have become really rampant in the hospital, ‘I have a lot of cases of adolescent pregnancy daily and the majority of them are unwanted or planned.”

Adolescence pregnancy comes with lots of complications both during and after birth given they were not planned and the teenagers are not ready physically or psychologically to take care of the pregnancy by going for regular antenatal consultations and taking prescribed medications.

“As teenagers, their systems are still not yet ready to accommodate the pregnancy which could cause anemia (a condition in which the blood doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells), hypertensive diseases such as preeclampsia (it happens when a woman who previously had normal blood pressure suddenly develops high blood pressure)  and during labor they are at high risk of having hemorrhage (bleeding under one of the membranes that surrounds the embryo inside the uterus) and some infections afterward. Most teenage pregnancies do lead to quick-term deliveries of premature babies. After birth, the teenager might likely face some psychological issues like anxiety, or depression,” the gynecologist explained.

In Cameroon, once a girl got pregnant, she was sent away while the boy remained in school and was not concerned. But, this has changed with the Minister of secondary school Pauline Nalova Lyonga signing a note that enables every pregnant girl to continue schooling till she is due for delivery.

To grow and develop in good health, adolescents need health information. Some schools have put in certain strategies to help educate and support adolescents’ sexual reproductive health.

Akie Nickson, the principal of College Polyvalent MCD, acknowledged the gap in knowledge that exist on teen sexual reproductive health and also explained the various strategies his school has put in place to help narrow the gap that does exist in teenagers’ sexual reproductive health.

“There are lots of teens who have gotten pregnant or contracted STDs because of lack of knowledge or fear to open up, as a school head, I saw it necessary to recruit more young female lecturers who take out their time to counsel and conscientize the students on their health and hygiene. I do believe female lecturers can easily get to adolescent girls and build up a connection of trust with them and also widen their health syllabus on reproductive health. “

The strategy may not be very effective as ‘some students are really timid and sometimes due to cultural and religious background, some students are not open and do cover up what they are facing.

Aimee Demanou, the biology and human biology teacher at MCD said, “‘During my first year as a human biology teacher, I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed discussing SRH topics with my students. Through my visits to hospitals, I saw how rampant teenage pregnancies have become so I try as much as I can to counsel my students.”

Adolescents do need constant reminders on sexual reproductive health and hygiene, Demanou started nurturing students from form one so they get used to and at times as a teacher she doesn’t need to see if it’s in the syllabus before talking SHR to students.

“Before I start my lesson I take out time to counsel my students and create a friendly atmosphere with them which help them open up indirectly by asking questions to which I do respond and advise them on what to do…..”

During interactions with some students, 70% of them really seem to understand SRH and some of its issues, some of them do shy during lessons on SRH and they do feel safer opening up to their mother or young female lecturers about what they are going through.

This article was produced with the support of Sisterspeak237 and the Canadien Fund for Local Initiatives.