Savana Signatures (SavSign), an ICT based non-governmental organisation (NGO) in collaboration with Text To Change is implementing a one-year sexual and reproductive health and rights project in the Northern and Volta Regions of Ghana, targeting about four thousand young people.
The project, dubbed “Sexual Health Education Plus (SHE+)”, intends to educate young people particularly those who have dropped out of school and provide them with information on their sexual and reproductive health and rights in languages such as English, Dagbani, Ewe, Hausa and Twi.
The project also aims at ensuring that, the quality of healthcare for expectant mothers is improved through ICT use by health professionals, and young men and women are asserting their rights to sexual reproductive health and rights information which will enhance government’s drive to achieving the Millennium Development Goal five.
“The platform is free and allows young people, both male and female, with mobile phones to access and seek sexual reproductive health and rights”, Frederick Nuuri-Teg, a Project Officer told the media including The Daily Dispatch at the launch of the project in Sagnarigu.
Currently, SavSign believes very few out of school youth have access to reproductive health information necessary to guide them to make well informed choices in life on sexual related issues.
The numerous reproductive health programmes in the country, Mr. Nuuri-Teg observes, largely target young people in school, neglecting the many out of school youth and the situation, he says, is worsened by the view of the Ghanaian society which thinks it is a taboo to discuss sexual related issues with young people, thereby making them vulnerable to teenage pregnancy and HIV and AIDs.
For instance, statistics from the Ghana Coalition of NGOs in Health, estimates that 750,000 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 years get pregnant every year. The development has been blamed on irresponsible parenting, broken homes, child neglect and peer pressure.
A recent study conducted by SavSign also revealed that, young people mostly access information on sexual and reproductive health and rights through Environmental Studies, Natural Science and Social Studies subjects they are taught in school.
The study further indicated that, young people receive information from School Help Programme (SHEP) coordinators who occasionally organize programmes for school children, adding that “students’ knowledge on sexually transmitted disease was limited as they cited chicken pox, diarrhea, malaria and infertility as STIs”.
It is against this background that SavSign is partnering with a Dutch based NGO Text To Change to implement a project that will attempt to bridge the information gap among young people with regard to their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Mr. Nuuri-Teg said, the project is a follow up to SHE platform, a similar project that was implemented in 2013 but focused on offering the youth opportunity to access sexual and reproductive health and rights information using their mobile phones.
However, SHE+ according to Mr. Nuuri-Teg, have additional features which include providing more opportunities to young people to have easy access to sexual reproductive health and rights information through their mobile phones as well as have direct contact with health professionals on their sexual reproductive health and rights needs.
According to him, the project will also create a platform for young people to have easy access to health professionals on daily basis for assistance on their sexual and reproductive health and rights needs on a mobile platform.
He urged young people in the project areas and even those outside the two regions to text SHE to 7000 (MTN users only) or 1904 (Airtel, Vodafone or Expresso users). “You would receive a welcome message shortly, welcoming you to the platform as well as to provide you with guidelines on how to use the platform”, Mr. Nuuri-Teg explained.
To access SHE+, he said users in the Northern Region can simply dial 0233778855 while those in the Volta Region can also dial 0233778889 to interact with a health professional between the hours of 12pm-6pm each day, who would assist them on their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Meanwhile, a Principal Midwifery Officer at the Tamale Teaching Hospital Ms Francisca Awaa encouraged parents and guardians to take up sex education seriously at the family level since children of today know more than expected of them.
She also advocated for the establishment of youth friendly sex education centres in hospitals and health centres across the country in order to deepen sex education among young people who are mostly vulnerable to STIs, unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion practices.