Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Mobiles to Give Reproductive Health Info to Young People

November 13, 2013

Befekadu Beyene, Ethiopia

Pathfinder International is exploiting mobile technology to address youth sexual and reproductive health in Mozambique and Ethiopia.

Text messages and stories are being used to provide young people with information about their health and where to get services.

The USAID-funded project mCenas!, which means ‘mobile scenes’ started in Mozambique and is the country’s first ever text messaging campaign that delivers information and stories about sex and contraception to young people.

HIV and reproductive health

This innovative programme could have a big impact in breaking down barriers for young people who want to access services, such as family planning or HIV testing and treatment.  

And this is particularly important when it comes to combating HIV as 40% of new HIV infections occur in young people aged 15-24. 

Julie Mellin, Link Up lead for GYCA, a consortium global policy partner, said: “Ensuring young people, especially those living with or affected by HIV, have access to comprehensive sexuality education and family planning information increases positive sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Text messaging is a great way to make it easier for young people to access vital information without fear or embarrassment.”

The Mozambique scenario

One in three people in Mozambique are aged 10-24 and adolescent childbearing rate is among the highest in the world. Unsurprisingly, the contraceptive rate is low and only 8.3% of women aged 15-24 are using contraception.

Yesterday, at the International Conference on Family Planning, which is being held in Addis Ababa from 12-15 November, Pathfinder International’s technical advisor Cllie Simon said young people themselves helped identify the major barriers they face in accessing contraception. The organisation then designed two distinct mCeans! messages: one for those who are parenting and one for those who are not. Simon said: “We did it with the youth, by the youth, and for the youth.”

Young people sign up to recieve the text messages through trained peer educators called ‘activistas’. The young peer educators also link people with sexual and reproductive health services. The campaign is in its early stage but 800 youth have already signed up for mCeans!

Ethiopia starting mobile health messages

Worknesh Kereta Abshiro, an Ethiopian senior adolescent sexual and reproductive health advisor, said the campaign is about to start in Adama University, one of Ethiopia’s largest public universities.

Messages are being developed in Oromifa and English languages. “Youth are the power house of the country’s development,” Worknesh explained, adding that access to sexual and reproductive health information should not be limited for them.

Worknesh said: “Based on the experience we are going to get from this we would work to scale up to other universities. The mHealth [mobile health] is going to be supported by peer educators and we are expecting to see more youth using condoms and other family planning products.”

There are 6 billion mobile users worldwide and 73% are in low and middle-income countries. With the growing number of mobile phone users in Ethiopia, Pathfinder International is expecting their service to have a big impact on the way sexual and reproductive health information can be easily accessed by the youth.

Sintayehu Kebede a university student from Ethiopia said: “Innovations like social media and mobile phones are very important to provide [health] information access for the youth.”

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