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During the International Conference on Family Planning, there was an exhibit of photos taken by young people around the world. The photos were taken as a part of the Well-Being of Adolescents in Vulnerable Environments (WAVE) study, Young Health Program. The program is designed to help young people around the world deal with the health problems they face and improve their chances of living a better life. The program is a partnership among AstraZeneca the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Plan International.

We are launching a global movement to bring more attention to youth sexual and reproductive health! During the International Conference on Family Planning, we hosted an interactive session during which participants developed a new campaign titled, “Answer the Call.” The goal of “Answer the Call” is to increase international attention on youth sexual and reproductive health (SRH) through the dissemination of Twitter and Facebook messages.

In 2008, 550 people from around the world participated in a conference on youth health and development in Abuja, Nigeria. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the “Abuja Call to Action,” which calls for governments, donors, and civil society to increase investment in young people. Through “Answer the Call,” we hope to generate renewed energy and commitment to meeting the goals outlined in the Call to Action.  During our interactive session young people, professionals, youth advocates and practioners working in the field of youth SRH worked together to develop the social media messages that will move the Abuja Call into action.  These messages are available on the campaign website. Help us to spread the word about this ground-breaking campaign! Please visit the “Answer the Call” website, post the messages you find there (or some of your own) on Facebook and Twitter, and encourage others to get involved. Together as one collective voice, we can better ensure that the world begins to pay more attention the needs of young people.

 FHI 360’s m4RH team presented their preliminary research findings at the International Confrence on Family Planning.  Their presentation explored the potential of mobile-phone-based programs to overcome barriers that young people face in accessing contraceptives. Below is an interview with the principle investigator Kelly L’Engle and co principle-investigator, Heather Vadhat.

 

 1. IYWG: Can you provide a brief overview of the m4RH program for our readers? What exactly is m4RH?

Kelly: m4RH is a family planning information service. Information about a range of short and long acting methods is provided via text message. There is also a searchable database of clinic locations where family planning services can be obtained. M4RH is opt-in, free to the user, an interactive or “ping-pong” system, and available across mobile phone provider inKenya and Tanzania.

2. IYWG: How popular are mobile phones among young people globally?

Heather: Very popular, it is estimated that 27% of the 5.9 billion mobile phone subscriptions world-wide are people under the age of 30.

3. IYWG: m4RH was designed to reach mobile phone users of all ages, but according to your presentation, it is quite popular among young people. What percentage of your users are youth?

Kelly: We only have data from Tanzania, so far. 15% of m4RH users inTanzaniawere 19 or younger during the pilot period. An additional 44% were 29 or younger. So that’s about 60% of all m4RH users who are youth and young adults.

4. IYWG: How are youth using m4RH?

Kelly: We know that young people are looking at a range of different contraceptive methods using m4RH. In fact, younger users access information about more methods in comparison to older m4RH users. Young people tend to be active and frequent information seekers about sexual and reproductive health, and m4RH seems to be supporting young people’s desires to learn about reproductive health by providing a high-quality and comprehensive range of information about contraception.

5. IYWG: Why are mobile phones a good platform for providing contraceptive information to young people?

Kelly: Mobile phones are private and confidential. Young people may stay away from clinics or conversations with health care providers or other adults, for fear of being stigmatized for seeking out information about reproductive health. m4RH provides an alternative method for learning about contraception that is private and confidential, and therefore m4RH may be especially helpful to young people who are thinking about their relationships and planning for the future.

6. IYWG: What are the barriers that young people face in accessing contraceptives?

Heather: Limited knowledge about contraceptive methods is a major barrier for young people; the next challenge is overcoming the common myths and misconceptions about contraception. Often young people are reluctant to seek information or clarification about contraception from a clinic setting because of concerns around privacy and confidentiality, cost of services, and provider biases.  Convenience of clinic locations and hours of operation is another challenge for many young people.

7. IYWG: Based on your research with users, how does m4RH seem to be addressing these barriers?

Heather: m4RH allows young people to learn basic information about many different contraception options and where to go to learn more. The service is free and available 24 hours a day, which addresses the convenience factor and the privacy afforded by using a mobile phone has been noted by many of our users as a key benefit of the system.

8. IYWG: m4RH is an informational service, yet your research shows that m4RH is not only increasing knowledge of contraceptive methods among young people but may also be leading to behavior change.

Kelly: That’s correct. When we asked m4RH users to report changes in family planning use after accessing m4RH, numerous changes in contraceptive behavior were reported. In most cases, accessing m4RH messages alone will not cause behavior change, but accessing m4RH messages in conjunction with exposure to other family planning information and health programming can result in positively impacting family planning behavior.

Young people reported many changes in condom use, which shows that mobile phones may be an effective platform for reaching youth with condom information, and m4RH provides an innovative method of reaching out to young people to complement usual ways of reaching youth with family planning and HIV prevention messages. Young m4RH users also reported changes in use of other contraceptive methods, suggesting that there is room for the adoption of a variety of coitally-dependent, short, and long acting contraceptive methods.

9. IYWG: What are the implications of this research on the field of youth sexual and reproductive health?

Kelly: We need to embrace using new technologies such as mobile phones to reach young people with SRH information, support, and services. A number of organizations in developing and developed countries are creatively reaching out to youth via the Internet, smartphones, and through SMS-based programs. Given the large numbers of young people in the world today, these technologies only offer the tremendous opportunity to empower millions of young people with essential information about their bodies and relationships and health.

 

Last night the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) hosted its annual

IYWG Meeting Participants

meeting as an auxiliary event at the International Family Planning Conference. Hosting the meeting at the conference was an amazing opportunity. Attendees included youth, government officials, donors, and a wide range of professionals. It was truly inspiring to be surrounded by so many people who share a common goal of improving the sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes of young people.

IYWG Meeting Participants

At the meeting, participants shared their incredible insights and experiences.  There were some outstanding discussions about approaches to meeting youth SRH needs among a range of populations and through a diversity of interventions.  The topics discussed included the SRH needs of married adolescents, addressing cross generational relationships, the SRH needs of young people living with HIV, and many more.

IYWG Meeting Participants

Commitment to improving young people’s sexual and reproductive health has been a common thread throughout the entire conference. One goal of this year’s IYWG meeting was to explore how we, as a community of youth sexual and reproductive health champions, can ensure that the conference’s focus on youth is maintained after the meeting closes.  By joining together to share lessons learned from the conference, participants were able to discuss how to translate these lessons into action in the field.

“I will share the information I learned tonight with our networks to help lives” –Participant Senegal

The IYWG will develop a set of strategy recommendations based on the discussions that were held at this meeting. These recommendations will be available on our website. We will also be hosting a follow-up e-forum to continue the meeting dialogue. The e-forum will be held from January 25 to January 27 2011; if you were not able to attend this meeting, we invite you to participate in the e-forum. Check our website for more details.

 
Opening plenary session

It is day one of the International Family Planning Conference (ICFP) and young people will play a pivotal role in this year’s conference. There are more than 150 young people attending, and there are a number of presentations, sessions, and other events dedicated to the sexual and reproductive health of this population. 

 

“This is an opportunity not just to talk about issues of youth and family planning but for young people to be present as well.” Dr. Robert Blum

The international attention being paid to the unique needs of young people could not be more timely. In developing countries, as many as one-third of adolescent girls give birth before their 20thbirthday. Furthermore, lack of access to family planning services leads to approximately 7.4 million unintended adolescent pregnancies every year. This conference provides an excellent opportunity for young people and professionals in the field of youth sexual and reproductive health to gather together for one collective purpose—ensuring that the needs of youth are met today so that they can achieve the promise they hold for the future.

Youth participants at PRB's Youth Policy Communications workshop

The Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) is thrilled to be a part of this monumental event. FHI 360, on behalf of the IYWG, is hosting several exciting sessions and events, including our annual meeting, that focus on youth sexual and reproductive health. To learn more about the IYWG-sponsored events at the ICFP, please visit our website and check our blog for daily updates.

This post originally appeared on the International Family Planning Conference home page on November 11, 2011 and can be viewed here.

With 12 young leaders and 150 adolescent participants attending, young people will play a prominent role in the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning according to Robert Wm. Blum, chair of the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In this video, Blum details why it’s critically important to involve young people in the conference and the many ways that they will help shape the proceedings. “I could think of no group more important to reach about these [family planning] issues than young people,” says Blum.

IYWG logo

This blog is brought to you by the Interagency Youth Working Group (IYWG) with financial assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The content is managed by FHI, which functions as the secretariat for the IYWG.
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