Resourceful Young Children

Resourceful Young Children
Learning Brief

Angus Gillis Foundation

Raising awareness of maternal health among rural adolescents

Category: Resourceful Young Children | Formalisation of human resource development | 13 May, 2014 - 18:00


Background to the awareness campaign
The Angus Gillis Foundation is committed to helping raise awareness about the plight of pregnant teens and to help ensure their access to quality health services at health care facilities in rural South Africa. Globally, 11% of all births are from adolescent mothers. These young women are especially vulnerable during pregnancy and when giving birth. In developing countries, such as South Africa, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged between 15 and 19 years old.

The Angus Gillis Foundation (AGF) is a rural development trust that was established in 2002 to respond to chronic under-development in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape. In 2012, the AGF in partnership with the Faculty of Pharmacy and the Community Engagement Office at Rhodes University undertook a joint research project in the Glenmore and Ndwayana communities of the Eastern Cape. During this project, feedback from 76 stakeholders identified adolescent pregnancy as the most pressing maternal health issue concerning their communities. Consequently, AGF started an educational intervention to raise awareness of the health risks associated with adolescent pregnancy.

This learning brief is designed to inform other ECD and development organizations about how adolescent pregnancy affects the health of young mothers and infants, and perpetuates chronic poverty. The hope is that by raising awareness of this issue other such organisations may better tailor their initiatives to account for the special needs of young vulnerable women and their children.

Why raise awareness about adolescent pregnancy?

Addressing adolescent pregnancy is one way to tackle persistent poverty. In order to achieve this objective women need to know about their reproductive health rights. Two essential aspects of reproductive health rights are: 1) the provision of quality health services at health care facilities, and 2) the dissemination of accurate reproductive health information to women of all ages, particularly adolescent girls.

Unfortunately, adolescent girls from marginalised communities with low levels of education are a vulnerable group with poor access to information about their reproductive rights. They face the greatest barriers in accessing reproductive and maternal health services; are at increased risk of maternal mortality and disability; and have the highest risk of infant mortality and low birth weight among their new-borns.

International and South African policy on adolescent pregnancy

Women’s reproductive rights and maternal health have a strong international focus. For instance, the WHO and the United Nations Population Fund both highlight prevention of adolescent pregnancy as an important and cost-effective intervention contributing towards the attainment of Millennium Development Goal number five. The Millennium Declaration set forth eight goals and targets to address and measure progress toward ending global poverty and under-development. The fifth Millennium Development Goal focuses specifically on women’s maternal health. It identifies two targets for assessing progress in improving maternal health:

  1. Reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three-quarters between 1990 and 2015.
  2. Achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

At a more local level, the South African government has also acknowledged adolescent pregnancy as an issue undermining women’s reproductive health. The government’s Teenage Pregnancy in South Africa is a set of policy guidelines focusing specifically on school-going learners. These guidelines highlight the negative impact of adolescent pregnancy on increasing maternal deaths, and emphasise the need for active involvement of all stakeholders as crucial to addressing this issue.

How we address adolescent pregnancy in our programmes

AGF has established a collaborative working partnership with scholars at Rhodes University and community participants to implement the Positive Health Programme in the Glenmore and Ndwayana areas of the Eastern Cape. This initiative is created to engender a sense of ownership and meaningful connection amongst residents of these communities. Initial consultation with community stakeholders highlighted the high number of adolescent pregnancies and the need to raise awareness of its associated health risks. We then collaboratively designed an educational intervention to address this concern, and introduced it into the next phase of an existing community project. The resulting Positive Health Champions initiative is now being well received because it was appropriately tailored for the audience and was designed in consultation with key community stakeholders. This programme would not have been started if the researchers and programme managers did not first consult with community stakeholders to assess the needs and pressing issues facing people in these areas.

Wider implications and conclusions
AGF’s experience is that incorporating adolescent health education initiatives into existing social programmes can have a meaningful impact on the health and wellbeing of the community, but can also positively influence other health and development initiatives. We also want to emphasise that as long as health policies, researchers, and institutions focus on a unidirectional approach of policy and decision-making, a gap between theory and practice will continue to exist. Increasing efforts towards community involvement in processes that shape research and interventions – through partnerships between academics, health services, and community-based organisations – is one effective way of addressing this gap.

In the future we plan to focus on the sustainability of this educational programme and preventing adolescent pregnancy by incorporating it into our existing Positive Health Programme. The wider dissemination of information will involve training AGF Positive Health Champions to include the topic of maternal health into their training activities. Furthermore, monitoring and evaluation indicators will be developed for continual assessment and tracking of the project.


Co-written by the Angus Gillis Foundation and Amanda Tatenda Siruma (MSc student, Pharmacy Dept. Rhodes University)

Angus Gillis Foundation

PO Box 448GrahamstownGrahamstownEastern CapeSouth Africa

 046 6227896

In Short

Adolescent pregnancy puts young mothers and infants at risk, and perpetuates chronic poverty. In this learning brief the Angus Gillis Foundation hopes to raise awareness of this issue so that other organizations may better tailor their initiatives to account for the special needs of young women and their children.

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