West African Health Organization Conference Kicks Off, HC3 is in Attendance

The West African Health Organization (WAHO) began its two-day meeting in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, October 25 with roughly 300 attendees, from Ministry of Health representatives, global health organizations as well as independent health communication experts.

Erin Portillo, HC3 Family Planning Program Officer II, at the West African Health Organization conference in Abidjan

Erin Portillo, HC3 Family Planning Program Officer II, at the West African Health Organization conference in Abidjan

Erin Portillo, Family Planning Program Officer II at the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) presented at the pre-conference on HC3’s long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) adaptable tools, the Urban Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Implementation Kit (I-Kit) as well as the Cote d’Ivoire Super Go project under the sub-theme “knowledge transfer and using evidence to promote health in policies and programs.”

A recurring theme of the youth pre-conference – which opened with a speech from WAHO General Director Xavier Crespin – was no more “business as usual.” Now is the time to act, innovate, make change in the way we implement youth programs, and the way we think about them, Crespin said. He also called for more collaboration between sectors and countries and increasing investments in youth as this is part and parcel of investing in the region’s economy. He articulated the need to go beyond implementing at the village level and scale up what works to the national level.

A WAHO youth assessment identified the following priority issues (though these can vary in severity from country to country):

  • Elevated adolescent fertility rates
  • Prevalence of unsafe abortions
  • Feminization of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Feminization of HIV
  • Early marriage
  • Female genital mutilation
  • High knowledge about family planning, yet low use (regardless of methods)
  • Good broad knowledge of STIs, weaker specific knowledge, low knowledge of where to get condoms to prevent STIs

Other topics that surfaced were coerced sex, unsafe abortion, linking young or first-time mothers to pre/post-natal services and postpartum contraception.

Forum Kick-Off

The forum itself began with a recap of the youth pre-conference and group breakout discussions focused on adolescent pregnancy, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, early marriage and country presentations on adolescent/youth SRH updates. Next, highlights were presented from the previous year’s forum held in Burkina Faso.

Presentations focused on health reform at the government and national level, as well as task shifting for improved maternal and child health services. Highlighted presentations included a “spouse clinic” intervention to increase men’s involvement in family planning, pregnancy and birth and a “pregnancy school” for pregnant women to orient and encourage them to have attended births — this model includes clinic/hospital tours and explanations of the process to allay fears around health facilities and delivering there.

HC3 will be tweeting during the remainder of the conference using the hashtag #WAHO. Follow along on Twitter.

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