DREAMS Innovation Challenge | Success Story
Connecting adolescents with resources is nothing new for Tinnah Onions, but it is her first time linking them to sexual and reproductive health information via the toll-free Chipatala Cha Pa Foni (CCPF)— Health Center by Phone—hotline. CCPF hires health care workers to provide health information and referrals over the phone, providing a critical link to the health system, especially for remote and underserved communities.
Tinnah and her colleague Justin Mpalabwazi are some of the most recent additions to CCPF for Adolescents, an initiative of the DREAMS Innovation Challenge. As adolescent advisors, they promote the CCPF service to their peers, helping to meet the sexual and reproductive health information needs of adolescents in Malawi.
Malawi has high rates of pregnancy, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) among adolescents, which contribute to school dropout among the country’s youth. In addition, unintended pregnancies among adolescent girls have far-reaching consequences and can lead to unsafe abortions, dangerous child birth, and even death.
One factor contributing to these high rates of pregnancy and STIs is adolescents’ inability or hesitancy to seek information or care for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues. Distance to the nearest health care provider can be great, and costs of seeking care prohibitively high. Embarrassment, a perceived (or real) lack of privacy, and an unwelcoming attitude on the part of health facility staff can further prevent adolescents from seeking the SRH information and care they need.
CCPF was developed by VillageReach and its partners as a maternal and child health hotline in 2011. In 2017, DREAMS IC gave VillageReach the opportunity offer youth-friendly services to adolescents, with the goal of significantly increasing secondary school retention and reducing HIV prevalence.
During CCPF for Adolescents development, Tinnah and Justin called the hotline anonymously, asking typical questions to assess staff service quality. Tinnah and Justin took notes about their interactions with hotline workers, paying attention to a variety of aspects, such as tone of voice, and helpfulness. Their observations informed the curriculum for the youth-friendly health services training that all hotline workers undergo.
Tinnah and Justin say that they are learning as much as they are contributing. Justin has been struck by how apprehensive youth tend to be about seeking SRH care. Tinnah has similar observations, and notes that adolescents are also hesitant to approach their guardians with sexual and reproductive health questions.
Many of Tinnah and Justin’s peers have said that they are relieved that the hotline allows them to talk openly and anonymously about SHR. Justin adds that hotline staff also offer advice on how to communicate their SRH needs to their partners, parents, and friends.
Tinnah and Justin love their work and look forward to continuing to link adolescent girls and young women in Malawi to knowledge on how to avoid early pregnancy and prevent STIs.