In rural communities across Ghana, adolescent girls who become pregnant face many challenges, and sometimes discrimination, in accessing quality healthcare due to stigmas surrounding teen pregnancy.
Often girls do not have money or are not supported by their families to access healthcare services. In addition, many don’t seek out healthcare due to fear of health workers either passing judgment on them or refusing to provide them with care.
This means that many pregnant adolescents have little knowledge about the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth, and may choose to deliver their babies at home without trained help – a practice that increases their risk of complication, and even death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2800 girls and women in Ghana died during childbirth in 2015, and 60% of all births in rural communities occurred without a skilled birth attendant present.
Globally, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among adolescent girls, and the newborn mortality rate for younger mothers is almost 2 times higher than for mothers over 20.
Recognizing the challenges facing adolescent girls and their children, Plan International Canada in partnership with the Government of Canada, Plan International Ghana and the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, is working to provide life-saving care to improve maternal, newborn, child and adolescent sexual and reproductive health in hard-to-reach communities in Ghana.
Through this programming, we will help significantly improve the health and well-being of women, adolescent girls and their children by increasing access to essential healthcare services, trained medical staff and lifesaving treatments
Growing up in a rural Ghanaian community, Mavis, 19, always dreamed of becoming a hairdresser, and eventually owning her own salon.
But when she became pregnant at age 17, she was no longer sure if she’d be able to achieve her dreams.
“I was very sad and I was disappointed. I did not expect to become pregnant,” she says.
“My peers started to laugh at me and I was scared of my parents’ reaction, especially my father. As he is the family head, I was not sure how he would react, especially since we live in a community where they frown on teenage pregnancy. I was scared.”
Plan International was working in Mavis’ community at the time, and she was invited to participate in a mother’s group where she could meet other young mothers and learn more about pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing. A key aspect of these groups is they provide a platform for not only learning about important healthcare aspects, but provide a network of solidarity through which girls can strengthen their agency, resilience and self-confidence.
Through the mother’s group, Mavis – and other girls like her – was encouraged to overcome her fears of seeking out healthcare, and eventually, she felt comfortable visiting local clinics to receive essential services.
As part of our programming, local health workers were trained on how to address the unique needs of adolescents like Mavis in a respectful, accessible and appropriate way; and at the same time the broader community was sensitized to support adolescent girls’ and boys’ sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as maternal, newborn child health.
“The midwife was nice to meet and she explained to me what food I should take.”
A brighter future on the horizon
Today, Mavis has a 1 year old baby girl named Cristobel whom she is able to keep strong and healthy, with support from our programming in her community.
“I was given a tetanus shot and was given tablets to prevent myself and the baby from getting malaria.”
When Cristobel is a bit older, Mavis plans to attend hair dressing school and continue pursuing her dreams of owning a salon.
“I am hopeful,” she says with a smile. “If put in the effort, I will be okay.”
Working to change the birth story around the world
Plan International Canada in partnership with the Government of Canada is working with girls like Mavis to change the birth story in remote communities across Ghana, Haiti, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi and Bangladesh.
Together, we are working to make sure that everyone – and especially girls, women and children – can exercise their rights to health without discrimination.
Join us, and endorse your support to change the birth story.
I stand with Canada to change the birth story because I believe that every adolescent girl, woman and child has the right to be healthy and to live a life free of discrimination.