Hi everyone. Mark Leon Goldberg here. I am the editor of Healthy Lives, a blog about global health from the NGO Population Services International. Jill has graciously given me the keys to Feministe where I will occasionally post on global health issues, with a focus on reproductive health and family planning.
I thought the community might appreciate this story about how a peer education program is helping to increase the prevalence of contraception use among teenagers in Liberia. The story is taken from PSI IMPACT magazine, which is a quarterly that takes a look at global health and development and is published by PSI. Check out IMPACT Magazine to learn more. The issue is themed around topics of youth empowerment.
Whitney Davis, 18, could have been part of a startling statistic: by the age of 19, nearly 60 percent of all women in Liberia have started childbearing. However, Whitney doesn’t intend to add to this childbearing statistic. “I am on family planning,” she says. “I use injectables.”
Whitney is practicing what she preaches; she’s one of the hosts of PSI/Liberia’s youth-centered radio show, Let’s Talk About Sex (LTAS). On the weekly radio show – aired on the United Nations Mission in Liberia Radio – Whitney and her co-hosts talk with guests and callers about youth-related health issues, such as cross-generational sex, peer pressure, and youth involvement in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
The LTAS show, a component of PSI/ Liberia’s SMARTChoice program, is designed for youth, about youth and by youth. The SMARTChoice program, targeted at in-school and out-of-school youth between the ages of 15 and 24, promotes abstinence and condom use and reduction in the number of sexual partners among sexually active youth.
“SMARTChoice is helping Liberian youth a whole lot with activities like free HIV counseling and testing to enable youth to know their status and ways to prevent getting the virus,” says Whitney.
Liberia is a country with some worrisome statistics, so the SMARTChoice messages are extremely important, particularly for young women. Although Liberia’s average national HIV prevalence rate is 1.5 percent, it is dramatically higher at 5.7 percent among young pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 24. This is no surprise, as many young women in Liberia engage in risky sexual behavior that increases their vulnerability to HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. Men typically hold the decision-making power when it comes to using a condom, and nearly 40 percent of young women between the ages of 15 and 24 engage in transactional sex with a man who is 10 years older or more.
SMARTChoice complements LTAS with on-the-ground education and empowerment to ensure that the most at-risk populations – young women and female sex workers (FSWs) – receive the messages of safer sex and sexual and reproductive health. SMARTChoice staff, including Whitney, visit clubs and bars to promote PSI/Liberia’s Star Condoms and educate the young women and FSWs about how to use the condoms to protect themselves and stay STI- and HIV-free.
Whitney sells the condoms to the FSWs, some of whom are her age, who then sometimes sell the condoms to their clients to make an additional profit – a double win providing both protection and some extra income. The SMARTChoice program, which supports the Liberian Ministry of Health’s Basic Package for Health Services, has sold more than 840,000 Star Condoms since 2008, and by the end of 2011, LTAS aired 176 live episodes.
– PSI Authors: Marilyn Luke Urey, SMARTChoice Program Manager, PSI/Liberia; Meredith Gaffney, Program Manager, West & Central Africa, Washington, D.C.