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The Importance of Investing in Adolescents

Last month, Guttmacher Institute released Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Meeting the Contraceptive Needs of Adolescents. As the report shows, 23 million adolescents have an unmet need for modern contraceptives. The risk of this unmet need is great. Children born to adolescent mothers have greater health risks than children born to adult mothers, and complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second-leading cause of death for girls in this age group. The cost of meeting the total need for girls 15-19 years old with a mix of contraception and improved services would be $770 million per year.

In addition to detailing the cost, the report also argues that: “successful programs are those built with adolescent input….  Earlier this month, PAI launched a new pilot grants program, YOUAccess. We awarded six youth-led organizations grants to implement projects focused on increasing youth access to and use of contraceptives.

We strongly believe in investing in young people, which is why these grants were specifically directed to youth-led organizations. The projects were envisioned by the organizations and they will fully implement them. Each grantee is focusing on an issue specific to their local context, and one that potentially has not previously been addressed- but will have a large impact on girls’ access to and use of contraception.

One of the grantees, Women Promotion Centre of Kenya, will be working with schools in the Kibera slums to abolish forceful pregnancy testing for girls. Not only are these tests humiliating for girls, but those that test positive are often expelled from school. Evidence shows that being in school increases the likelihood of girls using contraception, and there should be no reason girls are humiliated and potentially forced to leave school.

Another grantee, ZOE-MED of Cameroon, will address a population often left out when discussing sexual and reproductive health and rights—young people with disabilities. They will work with health workers to increase their knowledge and skills on how to counsel young people with disabilities on family planning, and train peer educators to promote the sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people with disabilities.

With a strong emphasis on innovation, risk-taking, and wide dissemination of results from the projects, we hope these will be the first of many youth-led projects to change the status quo of adolescent reproductive health.

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