THE EARTH TIMES
DECEMBER 25, 1995
Fighting illiteracy, poverty
By Ashali Varma
The International Planned Parenthood Federation’s top priority in Africa is reaching young people. Half the population of the continent’s Sub-Saharan region is under the age of 16, and early pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases pose critical problems for teenagers.
Local Family Planning Associations (FPAs) work to convince governments, religious leaders and educators to “accept educating children on reproductive health in schools,” according to Marc Okunnu, the Federation’s regional director for Africa. IPPF also trains
teachers and parent-teacher groups to talk with young people about the issues, and provides youth centers with a wide variety of posters, leaflets and services. Publicizing information about the prevention of HIV infection and AIDS is a vital component of this work.
African youth programs have made strides in recent years, said Okunnu. Most important
has been a push to directly involve young people in peer counseling and project design,
In Tanzania, where many teenagers resort to unsafe abortion and 30 percent to 40 percent of patients treated for sexually transmitted diseases arc in their teens, the local FPA, called UMATI, has started a Youth Family Planning Services Through Peers project. “Such project arc critical to the region and one of the ways that teenagers can learn about reproductive health and spread the message to others,” said Okunnu.
Helping IPPF affiliates become better organized, more effective and “more relevant to the demands of their countries” is the prime task, he told Thc Earth Times. But Okunnu has misgivings about the survival of grass-roots organizations in countries with armed conflicts and other unstable conditions.