Let’s Get Them Back to School

December 13, 2016

Boy meets girl. In our fast-paced world, they go through the motions and in an unlucky twist of fate, a child is conceived. Problem is, boy and girl are students in secondary school or worse still, primary school. For 98% of girls in Kenya, this scenario puts an end to their education. This scenario does not have to be the case though.

Recognizing that schools serve as a critical avenue to reach adolescents with health information and services, the Nairobi City County (NCC), with support from the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and Population Council, launched a Plan of Action to strengthen school health programs that has been two years in the making. The Plan spells out concrete steps to increase implementation of Kenya’s School Health Policy, which includes age-appropriate content across eight thematic areas, including access to health information and services. However, content on sexual and reproductive health is often missed for reasons including teachers’ discomfort with the material or feeling ill prepared to cover the subject matter responsibly. Instead, they focus on thematic areas such as nutrition or sanitation, or skip the content altogether.

Speaking at the launch, Nairobi City County School Health Coordinator Mr. Mohamed Dayow said, “Kenya has an excellent school health policy, however, only 15% of schools nationwide have comprehensive school health programs. Nairobi County is committed to improving young people’s access to health education and services.”

Adolescent sexual and reproductive health indicators underscore the importance of implementing comprehensive school health programs. For example, although the median age at first sexual intercourse  increased from 16 years in 1993 to 18 years in 2014, about 11 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys aged 15-19 years who participated in the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) had initiated sex by the age of 15. Further, the 2014 KDHS report showed that approximately 18 percent of adolescents (15-19 years) had begun childbearing with the proportion of girls who had begun childbearing ranging from 11 percent among girls with secondary education to 33 percent among girls with no education.

Though the Kenya National School Health Policy has been in existence since 2009, challenges have hampered its full implementation. Key among these challenges are inadequate funding, the lack of trained teachers, and limited collaboration between key actors involved in implementing school health programs.

This Plan of Action was developed to address such challenges, through cross-sectoral partnership between Nairobi City County Health and Education departments, teachers, the private sector, the Strengthening Evidence for Programming on Unintended Pregnancy (STEP UP) Research Consortium, and others.

“This Plan of Action is a sign of the immense progress that can be realized with cooperation. I commend the NCC health and education teams on a good job done,” said NCC School Health section head Dr. Charles Wanyonyi.

The Plan of Action’s overall goal is to reduce early and unintended pregnancies by 2025 by implementing comprehensive age-appropriate programs as outlined in National School Health Policy. The Plan’s specific objective is to reduce the number of early and unintended pregnancy among primary and secondary school learners in Nairobi City County schools from 17% to 5% by 2025.

APHRC’s Research Scientist Dr. Caroline Kabiru, a member of the task force that developed the Plan of Action, spoke of the need for parents to be involved in the implementing the Plan. “Enhancing sexual and reproductive health in schools doesn’t mean we absolve parents of their responsibility. We are asking all stakeholders to come together and ensure the success of this initiative,” she said.

APHRC’s Associate Research Scientist Dr. Joyce Mumah expressed optimism that the willingness and cooperation to develop the Plan of Action will flow over into the implementation phase. “The first step is to give students they tools they need to prevent unplanned pregnancies. When that is not possible, students should be supported during and after their pregnancies to continue their education.”

Implementation of the Plan of Action is targeted to start in 2017.