Residents of Grand Gedeh and River Gee counties have applauded the Swedish government for supporting them with contraceptives and other sexual and reproductive health services.
The ongoing project, which is funded by the Swedish Government through the UNFPA, provides counseling support, and free contraceptives to teenagers who are sexually active.
Implemented by BRAC-Liberia, it seeks to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy, among females in the southeastern region of Liberia through its Youth Friendly Centre, which provides education to both boys and girls on sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) matters.
“I really like the Youth friendly Center and the way we are received by the professionals there. I would appreciate it if the young girl’s could be attended to and tested for the best suited contraceptive to avoid side effects,” Albertine Siah, Zwedru Multilateral High School Youth Health Club.
According to the project beneficiaries, many of them single mothers, the provisions of free contraceptives and SRHR counseling has helped them to focus on education.
One of the project beneficiaries, 17-year-old Lydia Wawood, who lives with her parents, but sexually active, praised the Swedish government for supporting the project, which has helped her stay in school as a means of becoming a productive person in the future.
“I am grateful to the Sweden government and the UNFPA for this project. It is lifesaving not just for me, but lots of young girls here in Zwedru,” said Lydia. “I feel so blessed to have regular information to counselling supports on SRHR, and youth-oriented reproductive health services to meet my health needs.”
Lydia furthered asked the Swedish government and UNFPA to extend the project to other parts of Zwedru since “teenage pregnancy put them in a difficult position of realizing their dream.”
Another beneficiary, Oliver Zleh, Jr., 17, praised the project mobilization team on the ground for reaching out to them with information relevant to SRHR issues, particularly the proper use of condoms and their benefits.
Oliver added that the Swedish SRHR project has touched many young people who now have access to much-needed health services to avoid teenage pregnancies and other serious problems.
“I join hundreds of south-eastern youth in expressing profound gratitude to the government and people of Sweden for the generosity and support towards the project. Their generosity has saved the lives of hundreds of young people as we navigate the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood,” he said.
At the Swedish-sponsored Youth Friendly Center, adolescents are able to access contraceptive and sex education materials, as well as free treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, free of charge. In 2013, according to the UNFPA, they found that the teenage pregnancy rate in southeastern Liberia was hindering or stopping many girls from going to school and forcing them into early marriages as well as being mothers without formal education.
“After taking into consideration the level of damage teenage pregnancy has on the future of young girls and boys, UNFPA, with support from the Swedish government, saw it necessary to intervene and ensure that girls stay in school and only have babies by choice, not by chance, through the use of contraceptives made freely accessible. With all of those efforts, data collected by BRAC Liberia showed a huge reduction rate in teenage pregnancy from 57.9 percent in 2013 to 27.2 percent in 2020,” UNFPA said.
During a visit to Toe’s Town Youth Friendly Center, where the delegation met with local leaders, health practitioners, students and adolescents, including refugees who are benefiting from the program, the team was informed that the project is providing positive result and has contributed to many young people staying in school until they are fully prepared to start having children.
A teenage single mother, Tembra Doe, explained that counties in the Southeast have some of the most daunting sexual and reproductive health problems affecting young people in the country.
Tembra, who got pregnant at 15 years of age, said that unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are common among young people in the Southeast but, through the Swedish government intervention, more lives are being saved.
“After I gave birth, that was how I came across the health workers during one of their visits to the community. Because of that education, I am now in school, or else I was going to get pregnant again. Since I started visiting the Youth Friendly Center, I have not gotten pregnant, and there are no infections or growth,” Tembra added.
Hellen Weah, 18, explained that she got an unwanted pregnancy which she wanted to abort. And though she decided to keep the pregnancy, the child unfortunately did not survive.
“With the help of the project, I now have sex without any worry because I am protected by contraceptives as a means of helping me stay in school,” she said. “I’m grateful to UNFPA and the Embassy of Sweden for the inspiration and the level of smile they have put on the faces of many young women including the refugees who are living in the county.”
In a very impressive tone, Swedish Ambassador to Liberia, Ingrid Wetterqvist appreciated UNFPA and BRAC-Liberia for implementing the project successfully, as “Liberia is a young country, with 50 percent of the population under 24, and pretty soon, the young people will be taking to govern the country and, as such, they should now prepare themselves to implement the task ahead.
“This support from the Swedish is an expression of solidarity from a country which was very poor hundred years ago but is very rich currently.”
Ambassador Wetterqvest said from her visit, she has seen some level of commitment in the youth and hopes that the level of enthusiasm among them continues.
At a meeting attended by joint members of a high delegation that included Amb. Wetterqvist, UNFPA Country Representative Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, and Assistant Minister for Curative Services, Ministry of Health, Dr. Gorbee Logan, some beneficiaries were able to share their success stories and how impactful the Youth Friendly Center has been over the time as it relates to the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.
In remark also, Dr. Gorbee Logan thanked the Swedish government for the level of collaboration by launching such an innovative program that is making such a significant impact in the counties.
Dr. Logan added that the decision to end teenage pregnancy by constructing a youth-friendly center that is “accessible without fear is very important because it has been a major contributor of many young women, being uneducated and [with] medical implications during childbirth.
“Do not get me wrong, pregnancy is also a human right, but this project is only providing the opportunity that will enable young people to make an informed decision about childbirth that allows girls to have a family at a prepared time and provide treatment for STIs,” Dr. Logan said.
Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, UNFPA Country Representative, Ministry of Health said before the construction of the Youth Friendly Center, it was not an easy task for teenagers to access sex education and contraceptives when their parents were at the various government health centers.
“That is why the government, with support from the Swedish embassy through UNFPA, saw the need to build a center to help them have stress-free sex education and family planning,” Ndyanabangi said. “It is even encouraging to hear people talking that teenage pregnancy has taken a downward turn and we must not stop until it is zero. Before the issue of sex education was hardly talked about but now, it is discussed freely and even included in school lessons, [which] is very welcoming.”