Providing safe spaces for adolescent girls’ health has been linked as assurance in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
Deputy Project Director of Adolescents 360 (A360), Society for Family Health (SFH), Pharm. Fifi Ogbondeminu pointed out that safe spaces have proven to promote social inclusiveness for adolescent girls and help drive down maternal mortality.
Ogbondeminu spoke at the National Conference on Inclusivity, Equality & Diversity in University Education which was hosted by the University of Lagos.
The Director noted that through provision of safe spaces within existing Primary Healthcare Centres, the country will no doubt be moving closer to achieving major targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially that which helps access to social services.
Ogbondeminu explained how SFH through the A360 Project which commenced in 2017 has been able to break down barriers to some critical social and health services for adolescent girls aged 15 – 19 years through safe spaces in public health facilities where they were able to achieve their dreams in life skills, vocational skills, and making informed choices to create the future they want.
According to Ogbondeminu, SFH through A360 co-designed the 9ja Girls programme in southern Nigeria, and Matasa Matan Arewa (MMA) in the north with adolescent girls and their influencers.
The programme she said is funded by the Children Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
“While testing prototypes when A360 started, we considered the use of the existing youth friendly centres and PHCs to determine which was better for integrating youth-friendly services into the system.
“We found out that girls were willing to access services in PHCs as long as the providers were youth-friendly,” said Ogbondeminu.
She urged the federal and state governments to upscale safe spaces for adolescent girls to more primary health care facilities.
The A360 Nigeria Project was built on the availability of health providers who were volunteering through government programmes such as the SURE-P and the N-power programmes, trained and built capacity of these volunteer service providers.
The government is expected to adopt replicable components of A360 programmes and absorb the trained volunteers, which will ensure only trained and skilled youth-friendly providers remain in the system while adolescent girls continue to have access to sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) services even after A360 project closes out in 2020.
Regional Coordinator of the A360 Project, Adebusola Odulaja, stated: ”States should also train service providers to be youth-friendly and provide Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health, thereby increasing the network of youth-friendly service providers, which will in turn increase access”.
The Director however observed, “One of the challenges of the programme is that girls complain of long distances to facilities.
“Adolescents are usually deprived of access to services. We see cases of facility security personnel turning girls back, thereby denying them access,” said, Odulaja.
Nigeria has a maternal mortality ratio at 546 deaths per 100,000 live births (amounting to 40,000 pregnancy-related deaths annually).
The country accounts for 14 per cent of the global burden of maternal deaths, 95 per cent of which are caused by seven preventable conditions, including unsafe abortion.
It is estimated that between 610,000 and 1.2 million abortions are procured annually by women aged 15-44 years.
Experts are of the opinion that if all females who need family planning have safe spaces to access, 44 per cent of all maternal deaths in Nigeria will be averted.
By ensuring inclusiveness for adolescents, SDG Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages); and Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) will be automatically addressed, conference participants agreed.
In the safe spaces created for them, girls have access to trained counsellors, who give information and discuss with them sexual and reproductive health issues, as well as other life skills, while the sexually-active can voluntarily access modern contraceptives.
The A360 Project, 9ja Girls, is currently being implemented in two Lagos local government areas (LGAs) of Lagos State and about 23,000 girls have received adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) information and counselling.
The project is also implemented in two LGAs each of nine states and the FCT, with four states in the South-West Zone, three in the South-South, and three in the North-Central.
A major goal is to equip girls to delay the start of sexual activity, have healthy relationships, empower them to say no to sex, as well as to be able to negotiate when under pressure.