Conception, Contraception & Public Perception: How the Healthcare Community Can Improve Adolescent Family Planning Facilities

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Madhu Shruti Mukherjee, a 2nd year medical student under the West Bengal University of Health Sciences. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Cairo, 1994: The International Conference for Population and Development (ICPD) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) were pioneers for hosting important discussions around family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). However, in a world where public perception on adolescent conception and contraception dictates their access to it, how can present and future health professionals help?

According to the WHO’s fact sheet on Adolescent Pregnancy, an estimated 21 million girls between the ages of 15-19 years in developing regions become pregnant. According to UNFPA, childbirth and pregnancy complications are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls. This pushes even more adolescents towards poverty, marginalisation and without access to affordable family planning services. Apart from being respectful, SOGS-trained and unbiased while providing family planning services, health professionals need to have more effective interventions at a pre-pregnancy stage – via Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE).

The obvious benefits of CSE have been proven multiple times with data published in the WHO study titled Effects of Sex Education on Young People’s Sexual Behavior, showcasing a delay in adolescent sexual activity with CSE introduction in school curricula. Under the ICPD, participating nations are obligated to introduce it in their education plan, but few have actually been implemented.  In a report to the Human Rights Council, the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights reported on the lack of implementation of the Adoelsecent Education Programme in India, citing the popular misconception that CSE leads to risky sexual behaviour in adolescents. Even developed nations like the United States have wide inconsistencies in topics and content taught in different school districts, with a disproportionate emphasis on abstinence. Programs focussing on Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) techniques have been shown to be ineffective by a study conducted by Laura Lindeberg published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Furthermore, lack of access to abortion facilities due to this unscientific focus on abstinence pushes 5.6 million more adolescent women towards health complications and death, as reported by WHO.

Medical students as future healthcare providers and a part of the adolescent-young adult category are uniquely placed to address this issue. Whether it be incentive-based workshops in schools and colleges which do not address these topics adequately, or opening independent clinics and/or providing pamphlets and free CSE consultation at existing ones, they can provide an alternate access for adolescents to avail these resources, even in private without parental consent for teenagers in abusive/strict households. Using the burgeoning field of telemedicine to disseminate knowledge in orthodox households can be another way, as enshrined in WHO’s Recommendations on Adolescent SRHR. Health and abortion rights advocacy, like IFMSA’s efforts in the 66th Commission on the Status of Women are also viable means to raise awareness about the same.

And in this quest, it serves well to remember that the goal of implementation doesn’t stop with raising awareness, but starts with raising healthy adolescents and future generations.

About the author

Madhu Shruti Mukherjee is a 2nd year medical student under the West Bengal University of Health Sciences. Madhu is a passionate member of the Standing Committee SCORA of Medical Students Association of India (MSAI), an affiliated NMO of  IFMSA. She takes keen interest in Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights and Global Health Advocacy and has been involved in the Cervical Cancer Awareness campaign, has launched her own queer sensitisation campaign for expunging misogynistic and transphobic rhetoric in health literature and is a UHC advocate especially for inclusion of sexual abuse victims in health schemes.

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