Adolescent Health and Nutrition

UNICEF works with partners in Ghana to ensure that adolescents are healthy and well-nourished

Linda Okyere Baffour (13), a student at AME Zion School in Odoben, Ghana, on 19 January 2018.
UNICEF/UN267482/QUARMYNE

Challenges

Adolescents and young people form nearly one-third of the total population of Ghana - around one-quarter between the ages of 10 to 19 years with an additional 10 per cent young adults between 20-24 years. 

For more than five million adolescent girls in Ghana, the transition from girlhood to womanhood is filled with obstacles. Girls face vulnerabilities with regards to their sexual and reproductive health — with potentially lifelong consequences. Many of them start having babies when they are still children.

Teenage pregnancy is associated with maternal and child mortality. For several reasons, pregnancy in adolescence carries a high risk of maternal death. Children born to mothers under 20 years have less chances of surviving. The under-five mortality for those children stands at 105 compared to a national average of 85.

High level of anemia among girls is of particular concern because it is a leading cause of maternal mortality, low birth weight and premature birth. Nearly half of the adolescent girls in Ghana are anemic, making it a public health problem. 

Ubeida Yakubu Dud, a student at Humanist International School in Widana in the Upper East Region listens during a talk on sex and teenage pregnancy on 24 July 2015. Aged 14, she has a one year-old child.
UNICEF/UN736283/QUARMYNE
Ubeida Yakubu Dud, a student at Humanist International School in Widana in the Upper East Region listens during a talk on sex and teenage pregnancy on 24 July 2015. Aged 14, she has a one year-old child.

The quality and attitude of healthcare providers is a huge impediment as well. Due to insufficient training and cultural prejudices, adolescents hesitate to seek services such as counselling, advice on family planning and abortion to end unwanted pregnancies.

Instead of receiving care and assistance, adolescent girls who fall pregnant often face an unfriendly attitude in health centers

To make things worse, access to empowering information is severely limited. In the past, health programmes for adolescents focused on providing sex education and health services without much focus on empowerment. At the complex age of adolescence, the right information is key, which is inaccessible to the adolescents of Ghana.

Moreover, the Health Management Information System is inadequate due to the absence of periodic quality data review and analysis.

Solution

Ghana is a country in demographic transition. Whilst the total age-dependency ratio is decreasing, the proportion of the economically active population (15-64 years) is increasing. This demographic transition present the country with an opportunity to empower its adolescents and young people during which this population group peaks.

Ghana has been showing continued commitment to adolescents’ and young people’s health and development with UNICEF's support.

A group of young girls at the Odoben A.M.E. Zion missionary school in Asikuma Odoben Brakwa District on 7 September 2016.
UNICEF/UN487920/TAKYO
A group of young girls at the Odoben A.M.E. Zion missionary school in Asikuma Odoben Brakwa District on 7 September 2016

UNICEF is supporting the Ghana Health Service deliver more adolescent responsive services, and model referral mechanisms providing safety net (health, education and social protection services) to pregnant adolescent girls and teenage mothers.

With UNICEF's support, the Ghana Health Service is also implementing and scaling-up of the Girls Iron Folate Tablet Supplementation (GIFTS) Programme (an initiative aimed at reducing the incidence of anemia in adolescent girls), providing nutrition education and weekly supplements of iron folic acid to adolescent girls 10-19 years. Thanks to the GIFTS programme the incidence of anemia in girls in the Northern and Volta Regions has reduced by 26%.