The Importance of Information & Access for Adolescent Girls

Born On Time empowers women and adolescent girls with reproductive and sexual health information and access to quality health services

A staggering 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 give birth every year—mostly in low and middle-income countries—and with very serious consequences. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for 15 to 19-year-old girls. These adolescents are less likely to access antenatal care services and are more prone to key risk factors for preterm birth such as STIs, inadequate nutrition and gender-based violence.

Born On Time: A Public-Private Partnership for the Prevention of Preterm Birth recently undertook an extensive study to better understand the situation of women and adolescent girls, the availability of health services and the views of a wide range of community stakeholders. During the study, we met Shiuli, a young Bangladeshi woman. Her story illustrates why effectively addressing the needs and concerns of adolescent girls is so important.

A mother and her child in Bangladesh.

Shiuli was forced to drop out of school and get married against her will when she was just 15 years old. She became a mother for the first time at 16, but not by her choosing. By the time Shiuli was 19, she was pregnant with her second child. Already married for 4 years, Shiuli was shouldering the heavy burden of maintaining her husband’s large household of extended family members as well as caring for her own child. Her days were busy fetching water, washing clothes and performing the arduous household tasks demanded of her. There seemed to be no time for proper antenatal care.

The daily physical labour ended up taking a toll on Shiuli and seven months into her pregnancy, she was forced to deliver her second child. Sadly, the baby was too weak to survive and died four days later.

Shiuli’s story is all too common for young women in developing countries. Studies show babies born to adolescent mothers face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women aged 20 to 24.

The recent Global Adolescent Health Conference hosted in Ottawa by CanWaCH, Every Woman Every Child, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and WHO has highlighted the growing momentum centered around adolescent health as part of the global agenda on the health of women, children and adolescents. Events such as this conference and discussions this month at the World Health Assembly are shining a light on the barriers faced by adolescents, and the solutions that are necessary to make sure they are empowered, healthy and living life to their fullest potential.

A mother holds her newborn baby.

Not only does empowering adolescent girls with reproductive and sexual health information and ensuring their access to quality health services and contraception directly impact their own health and well-being, it supports their ability to make decisions concerning healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and ultimately contributes to full-term babies that survive and thrive.

Shiuli is pregnant again, and after the painful experience of losing her baby she has become a powerful advocate for her own health and for a healthy pregnancy. She is regularly attending her antenatal care visits, following the advice of her “doctor apa” and has enlisted her husband as a supportive partner who is helping with some of the heavy chores that endangered her previous pregnancy.

Born On Time is committed to helping women achieve healthy, full-term pregnancies in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali. These three countries have some of the highest preterm birth rates in the world.

Bringing together expertise and resources from World Vision, Plan International, Save the Children, the Government of Canada and Johnson & Johnson, Born on Time is following a holistic, integrated approach that aims to empower women and adolescent girls while engaging men, boys and community leaders to tackle gender-based discrimination and barriers that impact maternal and newborn health.

Every mother deserves a healthy, full term pregnancy, and every newborn has the right to thrive. Born On Time is expected to directly impact the lives of more than 196,000 adolescent girls and close to 933,000 women of reproductive age (20 and up).

Born On Time is the first public-private partnership to prioritize the prevention of preterm birth, now the leading cause of death in children under five globally. This bold new initiative brings together expertise and resources from World Vision Canada, Plan Canada, Save the Children, the Government of Canada and Johnson & Johnson. Working closely with local governments and stakeholders, the partners are working to improve newborn survival, with a focus on preventing preterm birth in high-burden areas of Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali over five years (2015-20).

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