ABUJA, Nigeria – Twenty-three per cent of Nigerian youth between ages 15 and 19 have already begun to have children, according to the country’s 2008 Demographic and Health Survey. “Teenage pregnancy is a major health concern,” the survey said.
The risks are stark: Adolescent pregnancies are associated with a higher incidence of obstetric fistula – a potentially devastating complication of prolonged labour – and higher rates of maternal death. They also take an enormous toll on girls’ futures. Girls who have children are more likely to drop out of school and less likely to emerge from poverty.
But sexual and reproductive health information and services can empower adolescents to make informed choices about their bodies and health.
Hello Lagos, a programme initiated in 2002 by the Lagos State government, aims to do just that. Located in a hospital, Hello Lagos has a youth centre that offers information and services to young people, free of charge and in a safe and confidential environment.
The programme offers not only the tools to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, but also the skills to navigate social pressure.
Ngozi Nwosu, a 16-year-old secondary school student, credits the programme with teaching her about the risks of engaging in unprotected sex. Hello Lagos has given her the confidence to refuse pressure to become sexually active before she is ready, she said.
A suite of services
UNFPA provides both financial and technical support to the programme, helping the government tailored its services to the needs of adolescents and youth.
In addition to its on-site sexual and reproductive health services, the programme also provides e-counselling, computer training, skills training and community outreach. It also offers referral services to other health centres when necessary. And counsellors at the centre are trained to handle highly sensitive issues, such as cases of sexual violence.
Hello Lagos also trains health personnel to be youth-friendly and to discuss sexuality issues with young people in an open and non-stigmatizing way.
Increasing access across the country
Hello Lagos’s success encouraged UNFPA to support similar projects in primary healthcare centres across Lagos State.
And with the support of the Federal Ministry of Health, UNFPA has carried out other reproductive health programmes throughout the country – providing services for youth as well as expectant and new mothers.
UNFPA has helped the Nigerian Government equip 30 primary healthcare centres in Abuja, the capital. One such centre, in Dutse Makaranta, a densely populated slum, was in bad shape before its renovation by UNFPA in 2009. Staff at the centre also received training in life-saving skills. Today, the facility is able to provide antenatal care, midwifery services as well as postnatal services.
“The quality of services rendered in the facility is next to none. After completing my antenatal care at the hospital, I can attest to this fact,” said Mariam Aminu, who delivered her baby at the centre. Her child now receives immunizations at the facility.
“What we are doing here is to ensure that no woman dies while giving life and adolescent girls do not get pregnant so as to avert fistula or death,” said the UNFPA Deputy Representative in Nigeria, Koffi Kouame.
With reporting by APANEWS.