Providing Adolescents with Information on Reproductive Health in Haiti
In Haiti, the vast majority of taboos related to sexual and reproductive health come from the religious sector. Religious leaders' moral, social, and spiritual influence has often been a barrier for young people seeking information on reproductive health. Religious leaders have feared, sometimes rightly, that this information was contrary to their principles. This has left many young people vulnerable to the problems of teen pregnancy.
Pastor Sadrac Chery, adviser to Haiti's Protestant Network of Churches, noted that the prevalence of teenage pregnancy in his community was worrisome. "We do not have the resources to handle all these cases, even when we are able to refer them to other institutions, they don't have the capacity to manage them, either," he said. "Hence the need to educate, inform and communicate with young people about responsible sexual behavior."
To address this problem, the Protestant Network of Churches turned to Haiti’s Department of Family Health (DSF) within the Ministry of Public Health and Population. Management Sciences for Health (MSH) had also approached the DSF around that time, recognizing that there was a need to address the sexual and reproductive health issues facing young people in Haiti. MSH has several years of experience working with youth in the areas of reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, and leadership development, through the USAID-funded Leadership, Management and Sustainability Program (LMS/Haiti).
The team from MSH, in collaboration with the DSF and the Protestant Network of Churches, was able to organize a campaign focusing on these issues thanks to financial support from MSH's Innovation Challenge (INCH) Fund. MSH's INCH Fund identifies promising innovations that have the potential to improve health outcomes and help replicate and scale tools, models, and approaches that have proven effective.
MSH worked with the DSF and other health partners to design a sexual/reproductive program specifically for youth. Building on the knowledge that young people are more likely to listen to their peers than to an adult they don't know, MSH staff identified youth and church leaders who could serve as facilitators, and trained eight men and four women with key messages on good behaviors and practices, the risks of early pregnancy, taboos and myths around sexual health. All partners also worked together to prepare information and education materials to be used in the education sessions.
Then, the MSH team worked with the Protestant Network of Churches to bring the campaign to two communities within Ganthier—Marreroseau and Pays Pourri—which are home to a great number of young people ages 10 to 25. Over a period of three-month, these facilitators held 84 different education sessions, reaching a total of 558 young people—including 380 girls. The facilitators also referred 86 young people to health clinics.
At the end of the sessions, Pastor Chery said, "We were pleased with these efforts and we realized that the messages that were being conveyed by the trainers were messages that should be received by the greatest number of young people possible in all of our communities."
Parents also took part in these sessions, many of whom thought this kind of education was long overdue in their community. One of the project’s facilitators, Dieunel Charles, noted that information on sexual and reproductive health could prevent problems for parents, youth, and the church leaders themselves.
Recognizing that there are many more youth and adults who would benefit from similar sessions, Pastor Chery told MSH that, "This laudable project must not rest as is. We have begun to establish connections and are willing to put the Ministry of Health in contact with other member churches of the South East network. We have also made contact with a youth association that operates in the country's Northwest that could help us replicate this program there.”
The INCH Fund—and the challenges it has helped to address—are an example of MSH's commitment to innovation to overcome obstacles to delivering high quality care. By working with the community to tailor solutions that work in the local cultural context, MSH is ensuring that it is helping meet the needs of many of the world's most vulnerable people.