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Saving Lives: How Text Messaging Can Improve Access to Family Planning

These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.

By: Maureen Anyango Oduor, Plan At Hand Girl Empowerment Project (Tanzania)

I have a dream! I dream of a world where young women have information about and can access affordable and youth-friendly family planning services. I imagine family planning services being viewed as precious commodities, penetrating the hardest-to-reach markets effectively and consistently just like ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola.

When adolescent girls don't have access to information about their sexuality, or to condoms and other contraceptive methods, the impact is intensely personal — an unplanned pregnancy, HIV or sexually-transmitted disease infection, or injury in an unsafe relationship — but the sum of these individual experiences are catastrophic for communities and for countries. Pregnancy-related deaths are a leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15-19 years-old in low-and middle-income countries.

In Tanzania, young people are at an elevated risk of experiencing sexual and reproductive health problems. The adolescent childbearing rates in Tanzania are among the highest in East Africa, where, by no coincidence, young people also have the highest unmet need for contraception. Investing in the health of adolescent girls is not only the right thing to do, but will also have a lasting impact on Tanzania’s economic and social development.

This is why I’ve started the Plan at Hand Girl Empowerment Project, an adolescent-focused, mobile-health intervention designed to address the key barrier to adolescent girls’ access to family planning and reproductive health services. The research is clear: Short Message Service (SMS) technology – otherwise known as texting – is an effective method to promote family planning services to youth in a private and cost-effective manner. Texting family planning messages to adolescent girls breaks down accessibility and communication barriers that prevent girls from accessing family planning services.

And anecdotally, I’ve found that my work is consistent with the research: girls are more receptive to discussing “uncomfortable” reproductive-health related issues over text than in-person. By reducing barriers to this information, my project is bringing us one step closer to a world where girls in Tanzania have timely, girl-friendly information about family planning services.

Youth-led projects are so important to make my dream a reality because they impact youth education and inspire action more effectively than projects that don’t consider young voices. Young people are interconnected, they communicate information fastest among themselves and they value what their peers say most. Young people currently hold the key to redefining sexual and reproductive health and rights in Tanzania, Africa and around the globe because we have the innate and practical power to lead by progressive and positive example. Young people have fresh and innovative ideas that can help solve the reproductive health problems that affect them. I’m confident that youth-led projects are can help make my dream come true.

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