BY: DR. AMADOU YÉRI CAMARA, CHIEF PHYSICIAN, SÉDHIOU REGION
From 2017 to 2018, the Evidence to Action (E2A) Project worked in collaboration with the Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action and the Global Research Action Group, with the support of USAID Senegal, to carry out a study aimed at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of existing adolescent and youth reproductive health care. The study revealed factors that affect the quality of services adapted for young people, assessed the factors influencing young people’s adoption and use of these services, and enabled government partners to study the characteristics of existing and well-suited AYRH models for potential scale-up. Below, one of our key governmental partners from the Sédhiou region—Chief Physician Dr. Amadou Yéri Camara—shares his unique perspective on the study findings and what comes next.
You can change a society dramatically by investing in young people early.
This belief inspires much of my work as Chief Physician of the Sédhiou Region. Moreover, you can see this commitment to young people countrywide; the Senegalese Ministry of Health and Social Action prioritizes adolescent and youth reproductive health in our policies for good reason.
In Senegal, more than 60% of the population is under 25 years old. This represents more than 9.5 million young people. In them, I see the potential for great progress.
Young people are more receptive to change. When you train an adult, the benefit is very limited in time. But when you train and share knowledge with a young person, a whole generation can benefit.
If we want to make significant strides in health—including a reduction in the high prevalence of unintended pregnancies among young people we see in Sédhiou—we must act early by investing in young people and preparing them for safer sexual and reproductive lives.
To achieve this goal, regional decision-makers, like me, need evidence on which to base our plans. To effectively implement the service delivery component laid out in Senegal’s National Strategic Plan on AYSRH (2014–2018), we needed a clearer picture of the reality young people face. Through a collaboration with E2A and Pathfinder International, we obtained information we can use.
MY HOPES FOR THE STUDY
When I first learned about this study, what interested me most was the potential to get up-to-date information on (A) young people’s knowledge of AYRH and (B) families’ perceptions of AYRH. I also expected to see where Sédhiou falls in comparison to the rest of the country.
A NOTABLE FINDING
You can see many of the study findings from the Sedhiou region here. One that surprised me most was that the average age of first sex was lower in our region’s rural setting.
I asked myself, “How can we delay the age of sexual debut for very young people in both rural and urban settings?” And I was not alone in focusing on the needs of younger adolescents.
SIX REGIONS DISCUSS RESULTS
On October 22, 2019, I flew to Dakar to join a workshop conducted by E2A with stakeholders from six regions across Senegal. Side by side with colleagues from Koalack, Kedougou, Kolda, Matam, and Saint-Louis, I received, considered, and compared findings from the study.
Together, we discussed the need for adolescent and youth interventions to start earlier. We noted the very weak knowledge on AYRH among very young adolescent ages 10–14 years old. We also saw a real lack of knowledge about the menstrual cycle among adolescents.
Then we used E2A’s Thinking Outside The Separate Space Tool to consider the adaptation of our interventions to the specific needs of our regions.
Ultimately, this tool helped us think about the true diversity of adolescents and youth. There are as many types of young people as there are cities and cultures. Now, we have new evidence and strategies to more effectively reach them.
As those of us in the Sédhiou region focus on addressing areas of need identified by this study—including the age of sexual debut and limited access to AYRH services at health posts—I’d like to leave you with a final thought:
While Senegal has amassed important information on AYRH needs in the past, this E2A study allowed us to get representative data on our specific regions. Please join me in calling for more targeted studies of this kind and clear action plans to use the data for our decision making. Evidence is essential for getting the results we need for the particular young people we serve.