The project, which aims to improve adolescent access and uptake of reproductive health services, recently received a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
A universal need
“Worldwide, people are realizing that if we don’t give adolescents the tools they need, they are at risk of numerous sexual health-related issues,” said Dr. Jill Allison, Global Health co-ordinator.
“So my colleague in Nepal, Dr. Laxmi Tamang, suggested the idea of peer education to help provide children with the information they need to make good reproductive and sexual health choices.”
The peer-education project will complement Nepal’s National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Programme and will also be integrated into the country’s sex education curriculum.
Nepal’s National Health Training Center has been tasked with the delivery of adolescent sexual and reproductive health services, but from what Dr. Allison has gathered “administrators don’t feel they are ready yet, so it leaves children in a bit of a bind as they are interested and curious about the topic.”
Education in the 21st century
The program will roll out in 10 intervention schools in earthquake-affected areas outside the Kathmandu Valley with four male and female peer educators, ranging from Grades 7-10. The students will use tablets that have games, videos and questionnaires to discuss a range of topics, including biology, relationships, contraception and gender equality.
Violence against women is pervasive in Nepal, according to a report published by Worec in 2016, which is why gender equality is an important goal for the organization, and is also one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Yagiten, a Nepali technology company, has been brought on board to help develop an app interface for the project.
“Peer education has been used before with some success and not, but I think the use of technology might shift it a bit, especially in the Nepali context,” said Dr. Allison. “The need is somewhat different in the conservative society because people aren’t really talking about sexual activity the way they should be.”
The project is a proof-of concept idea. After the first eight months, Dr. Allison and the team will see if increasing the demand increases the number of adolescents who ask for health services. They will also analyze observations from the peer educators to see if there is an increase in student’s knowledge and understanding of sexual and reproductive health.
The culmination of the project and Dr. Allison’s strong relationship with organizations in Nepal is in part thanks to the International Summer Institute for Global Health Training (InSIGHT) program.
Started by Dr. Allison and Dr. Shree Mulay, professor, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, it has been running annually for the past six years.
The program offers eight undergraduate medical students from Memorial the opportunity to participate in a combined community based and clinical learning program in collaboration with Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Kathmandu.
The next generation
Dr. Allison believes that many adults in Nepal haven’t had adequate access to sexual and reproductive health education.
So, if they’ve been misinformed and carry that knowledge throughout their lives, they may be reluctant to share information that they don’t believe — even if it is part of the school curriculum, Dr. Allison says.
“This project is a great opportunity for young people to become change agents of values in their own community.”